Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje urged local government units (LGUs) to take an active role to stop illegal poaching and trade of marine and other wildlife species in their localities.
Paje particularly asked local executives to strictly monitor their 15-kilometer municipal waters, which they have “exclusive authority to enforce environmental laws” even as he committed to extend technical assistance to LGUs under the department’s integrated coastal management program.
Paje made the call Monday during a Senate hearing called by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, chairman of the Senate committee on environment, on the black corals and other endangered marine species confiscated by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) at Pier 15 in Manila last May 2. These were said to have been gathered from the seas of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao.
Paje said efforts to stop illegal marine poaching and wildlife trade would only be effective if the market is denied the goods. As for the source of such goods, he explained that most corals and seashells need sunlight and can thus be found within the 15-kilometer municipal water zone, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the mayors.
“We have already requested the assistance of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in identifying the participation LGUs,” he said.
He proposed that LGUs apply “social fencing” wherein local community folk themselves would be tapped or deputized in the implementation of environmental laws to protect and conserve the natural resources in their localities.
Paje also said during the hearing that the DENR and the Department of Agriculture (DA) will work together under an existing convergence initiative to help fight marine poaching especially of corals and shells, which he called as “the new muro-ami”. “Muro-ami” is an illegal fishing method done by pounding or crushing corals underwater to scare fishes towards nets, and employs mostly children of local communities for their excellent skin- or free-diving skills.
He proposed that the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9147, also known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, be applied to those accused in the case since coral reefs are considered important habitats for highly diverse marine species. RA 9147 calls for the conservation and protection of wildlife species and their habitats.
He explained that the penalties in RA 9147 are stiffer, compared to those in RA 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The former carries a maximum penalty of P1 million and/or up to 12 years imprisonment, while the latter metes a punishment of only P200,000 and/or up to two years of imprisonment.
According to the secretary, the brunt of the law should be applied to its violators because even with a hundred per cent success rate in enforcement, “it will still be considered a hundred per cent failure, because we cannot return to the environment what was already taken [from it].”
Sen. Zubiri directed both the DENR and DA during the hearing to craft a framework to include other stakeholders in the effort to curb marine poaching at source, and to form an “anti-marine resource poaching task force, similar to the anti-illegal logging task force”.
At the same time, the senator proposed the holding of a forum that would bring the issue to the attention of the international community, and thus hopefully prevent a possible market for the illegal trade of marine species. -30- PAO, DENR