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Chinese-Filipino trader tagged in smuggling of black coral

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Chinese-Filipino trader tagged in smuggling of black coral

CARGO INSPECTION Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri shows photographers some of the rare black corals during an inspection of the seized illegal shipment at the Bureau of Customs in Manila. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

MANILA, Philippines—A Chinese-Filipino businesswoman has been identified as the financier in the foiled attempt to smuggle P35 million worth of marine life that exposed the massive destruction of a black coral network off Cotabato province reportedly five times the size of Manila.

Exequiel Navarro, consignee of the illegal shipment, identified the woman and two accomplices, but their names were withheld pending investigation, Customs Police Director Nestorio Gualberto told reporters on Monday.

“The businesswoman is supposed to be the financier of the project. She exports marine products to Taiwan,” Gualberto said. “(Navarro) is claiming he was only used by the Chinese businesswoman.”

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Navarro is under investigation after customs officials intercepted two large container vans containing cargo declared as rubber and consigned to him earlier this month. The shipment revealed more than 21,000 pieces of black corals, 161 dead turtles and other marine life.

Coral expert Gary Williams of the California Academy of Sciences estimated that the area damaged or destroyed due to the harvesting of the black corals could reach up to 190.8 square kilometers, or five times the size of Manila, which has a land area of 38.55 square km.

Gualberto said Navarro also implicated two men—one in charge of the harvesting, and the other the shipper.

Navarro to be judged

Gualberto said the Bureau of Customs would initially file charges only against Navarro in the Department of Justice on Thursday for violating the country’s Fisheries Code.

Gualberto added that the bureau also would seek Navarro’s inclusion in the Bureau of Immigration’s watch list to prevent him from leaving the country.

“We cannot make any arrest because the incident happened a long time ago. (Navarro) is freely roaming around, but he cannot leave the country,” he said.

Gualberto said Navarro also offered a sworn affidavit to the bureau, but the agency turned it down and suggested that he submit it instead to the justice department.

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“These are his allegations, but it remains to be proven if that Chinese woman has something to do with his case,” he added.

Li n Lim Trading

Theresa Mundita Lim, chief of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, said on Monday that Navarro had disclosed in his affidavit that the contraband was consigned to the Zamboanga-based Li n Lim Trading.

She said Navarro had claimed he was not a part of the trading company and that he was only a representative of the transport company hired to ship the contraband.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told reporters that President Aquino had directed the prosecution of Navarro and the imposition of “stringent penalties” on him.

Paje said criminal charges against Navarro would be filed for violations of the Wildlife Act, which provides harsher penalties, instead of the Fisheries Code.

He also said the value of the damaged and confiscated species was lower than the actual costs.

“The value is understated so far,” Paje said. “The damage to our water resources runs up to hundreds of millions of pesos.”

It takes more than two decades for coral reefs to recover, he noted. Further, the destruction of the reefs will have a domino effect on other species that depend directly and indirectly on it.

Senate inquiry

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, inspected the contraband at the port of Manila on Monday.

“We will conduct an investigation to put a stop to this rape of our seas and natural resources,” Zubiri told reporters. “I am a diver and it pains me to see these harvested corals and dead animals.”

In a privilege speech later in the Senate, Zubiri condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the destruction of coral reefs, describing it as “economic sabotage.”

“We cannot let this high crime pass without our scrutiny … We will expose all the people behind this crime, particularly the financier and masterminds of this syndicate,” he said.

Citing a World Wildlife Fund estimate in 1994, the senator said destroying a kilometer of coral reefs cost between P6.165 million and P54 million over 25 years.

“If we lose our corals and marine biodiversity, we will lose these marine grounds where the fish spawn, lay eggs and feed on. In short, we will lose our rich fishing grounds and deprive millions of Filipinos who rely on fishing for their livelihood, as well as pose a threat to our food security,” Zubiri said. With reports from Kristine L. Alave and Christian V. Esguerra

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TAGS: Bureau of Customs, Chinese-Filipino, corals, Crime, Environmental Issues, Fisheries code, Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, punishment, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate, Smuggling, trader, Wildlife Act, World Wildlife Fund
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