THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) turned over to the proper government regulatory agencies tens of thousands of endangered marine organisms seized by Customs Police amid beefed up operations following a major wildlife trade bust two weeks ago.
The list of confiscated protected species that belonged to wildlife trader Exequiel Navarro included 161 heads of preserved hawksbill and green turtles, nearly 21,000 pieces of black corals, more than 7,300 pieces of seashells, and 196 kilograms of sea whips.
Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez said the wildlife contraband concealed in two container vans were misdeclared by Navarro as a shipment of rubber and had an estimated market value of at least P35 million.
The prohibited cargo from Cotabato province in Mindanao was about to be offloaded at the Eva Macapagal Domestic Terminal when it was apprehended by Customs Police.
BOC turned over the turtles to representatives of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. The corals, shells, and sea whips were turned over to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Commisioner Alvarez also said his agency has put the protection of natural resources on top of its anti-smuggling priorities.
The incident comes at a time when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is also shoring up its efforts to stop illicit wildlife trade through stricter enforcement of wildlife laws. More aggressive legal action against violators is also expected through prosecution in special “green courts” designated by the Supreme Court.
For his part, DENR Sec. Ramon J.P. Paje condemned the poachers and warned that those found guilty will “face the punishment to the fullest extent.”
Paje tasked wildlife experts of DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau to dig deeper into the incident and identify other personalities that should be charged besides Navarro.
Navarro has already been charged with violation of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The code bans gathering, owning, selling or exporting of ordinary precious and semiprecious corals. If found guilty, he faces a prison term of six months to two years and a fine of up to P500,000.
The DENR is also studying the possibility of charging Navarro for the violation of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act or Republic Act 9147.