Saving the Philippines Seas: An Intergenerational Responsibility
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
2nd Floor, Senator Jose P. Laurel Room
Senate of the Philippines
First of all, I would like to thank Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Chair of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, for giving me the opportunity to speak. I greatly appreciate your concern, immediate action on this matter, and willingness to listen to a young person fresh out of college.
I, along with a handful of individuals, have been actively researching about the collection and exportation of our marine species. This began after we were informed about the company Shell Horizons Inc. last month. This is a company that allegedly collects and exports shells and corals from the Philippines, including those protected by CITES, like the giant clams.
We immediately sought the assistance of concerned government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), because it says in the Wildlife Act, or RA 9147, that “the implementation of International agreement on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, the management authorities for terrestrial and aquatic resources shall be of the PAWB, of the DENR and the BFAR of the Department of Agriculture.” The letter cited excerpts from several local and international laws: the Wildlife Act, the Fisheries Code, the Presidential Decree 1219, which protects Philippine corals, and the Lacey Act of the United States of America.
The DENR replied, with a letter signed by Atty. Annaliza Rebuelta-Teh, referring me to PAWB. The PAWB replied with a letter from Director Teresita Mundita Lim a week earlier than DENR did, referring me to BFAR. The Assistant Director of BFAR, Atty. Benjo Tabios, said he would look into it. A month later, I asked for an update, to which he replied, “Let me check it out.” There was absolutely no sense of urgency from any of our government agencies.
With help from our friends at the media, we were able to generate a small buzz online. Within a month, Shell Horizons replaced its source of products from the “Philippines” to “Indo-Pacific Islands.” Their product catalog now also states that none of their exotic corals are Philippine corals.
If it weren’t for the headlines splashed across our major broadsheets this week and last week, perhaps we wouldn’t have been taken seriously. It was only after an article entitled “Coral reefs twice size of Manila destroyed” was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the government officials started acting upon this matter.
Now, there are about eleven resolutions urging the concerned Senate committees to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation on the status of our coral reefs, sea turtles, and other marine species. I strongly support SRN 424, introduced by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, which directs the proper Senate Committee to conduct an inquiry on the proliferation of illegal wildlife trade and the need for a stronger enforcement of our laws to curb the incidents of animal smuggling. We need not look far—Cartimar is known to sell seashells and even black tip sharks. We have also discovered many more companies openly selling protected seashells and other marine species that are allegedly from the Philippines. Allow me to show screenshots from these websites:
1) Denis Brands
2) Top Sea Shell
3) The Shell Store
4) Top Sea Shells
5) Petra Aqua
Before the Senate creates new laws, we fervently request you to review and revise our existing ones. We urge the Senate to add a provision regulating the collection and exportation of seashells. As of now, there are no laws that protect non-endangered shells. Our online research has led us to ocean bill of lading samples from the company Orcullo Enterprises, which is based in Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines. One shipment, dated February 2011, had 8, 556 KG of shell and shell handicrafts, while another one, dated April 28, 2011, had 6, 982 KG of shell and shell handicrafts.
I would also like to respectfully invite your attention to Chapter VI, Sec. 91 of the Fisheries Code, which states that the penalty for a crime like this will be punishable by imprisonment from six (6) months to two (2) years and a fine from Two thousand pesos (P2,000.00) to Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00). In Chapter V, Sec. 28 of the Wildlife Act, the penalty for engaging in trading wildlife is only imprisonment of ten (10) days to one (1) month and/or a fine of Two hundred pesos (P200.00) to Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00), if inflicted or undertaken against other wildlife species.
The punishments for the crime do NOT match the severity of the crime—just 2 years in jail for the criminal, but at least 2 decades for the coral reefs to recover. The amount of black corals and marine turtles seized by the Bureau of Customs this month was estimated to be worth at least PhP 35 million. The recent raid in Cebu confiscated marine species worth PhP 2 million, while another raid revealed sacks of black corals worth about PhP 15 million.
We, as Filipino citizens, are seeking your help as Senators of the Republic of the Philippines. Our online research only leads us to a limited amount of information. Senator Loren Legarda has introduced SRN 491, the resolution directing the concerned Senate Committees to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the reported poaching that ravaged 7,000 hectares of seabed within the Moro Gulf and Sulu Sea. We strongly suggest coordinating with agencies based abroad, such as the US Fisheries and Wildlife Service. As Atty. Oposa earlier said, this issue needs international cooperation, because we need to stop both supply and demand. We need to identify ALL the people behind the plunder of our seas, and the sites from which these marine species are being extracted for the sake of our country, our people, and our biodiversity.
While we are determined to enforce the Law, we also wish to extend the hand of cooperation. We are here to help spark the political will to promote compliance. From a handful of individuals who worked together last month, our number has grown exponentially. We have created a movement called Save Philippine Seas, which is currently conducting a marine resource watch, actively lobbying and researching on the amendment of penalties, enforcement of law, and keeping citizenry aware through social media. We have received an overwhelming number of messages from Filipinos and non-Filipinos from here and abroad offering their help. The bayanihan spirit is very much alive, Your Honor. The rape of our rich marine resources is not just of national concern, but INTERNATIONAL concern because of its global significance. We can organize a group of volunteer divers to help restore the reefs, or mobilize our partners in media for information dissemination.
Your Honor, we have entrusted you, and other decision makers and leaders of today, to be the guardians of our inheritance. You have the responsibility to ensure that we will still have the necessary sources of life that you had in your lifetime. These are the assets entrusted to you to conserve, protect, and restore. A violation of this trust will expose us, and generations to come, to irreparable injury and irreversible damage. My generation and the generations yet unborn have a right to inherit a country that has sustained your generation. It must continue to do so.
Maraming salamat po.