What Went Before: Smuggling of black corals, seashells, sea turtles
On May 1, 2011, customs officials in Metro Manila blocked an attempt to smuggle out of the country P35 million worth of black corals, seashells and sea turtles.
An inventory showed that 163 stuffed hawkbills and green turtles; 21,169 pieces of black corals; 7,340 pieces of Trumpet and Helmet shells; and 196 kg of sea whips—all threatened species that cannot be collected or traded were loaded into two container vans that were declared to be filled with rubber.
Coral expert Gary Williams of the California Academy of Sciences estimated that the area damaged due to the harvesting of the black corals could reach up to 190.8 square kilometers.
Exequiel Navarro was identified as the consignee of the shipment which left Cotabato province on April 29, 2011, while the alleged shipper of the contraband was Zamboanga-based Li and Lim Trading owned by Olivia Lim Li. Both Navarro and Li were charged on June 3, 2011, with illegally harvesting black corals and endangered marine species and were placed on the immigration watch list.
Li’s husband, Joe Pring, also known as Joe Ping, a Taiwanese, had been charged in 2007 after authorities found and seized endangered marine species from a warehouse operated by Uan Huat Trading which he owns.
The Li couple could not be found since they were charged and placed on the immigration watch list.
In a Senate hearing on June 13, 2011, Senate Sergeant at Arms Jose Balajadia told the Senate environment committee investigating the smuggling case that the Li couple had taken a Cebu Pacific flight from Zamboanga City to Manila and a Cebu Pacific connecting flight to Hong Kong on June 7.
Agents under Balajadia and policemen served the arrest warrants on the Li couple at their residences in Zamboanga City on June 10, but they failed to locate them.
Then Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez said the illegal trade in black corals “is being fueled by the demand of the multibillion-dollar marine ornamental industry for exotic decorative species and the increasing popularity of coral-accented jewelry and fashion accessories.”
The law prohibits any person or corporation to gather, possess, sell or export ordinary, precious and semiprecious corals whether in raw or in processed form. The penalty ranges from six months to two years and a fine of as much as P500,000.
Also charged in the complaint filed in the Department of Justice were Kim L. Atillano, owner of the Zamboanga-based JKA Transport System, the cargo forwarding company tapped by the shipper; Ireneo Penuliar and unidentified employees of the Manila branch of JKA Transport System; and the officers/owners of Vicky’s Trucking, the company which transported the misdeclared cargo from the shipper’s warehouse to the Port of Zamboanga. Ana Roa, Inquirer Research
Source: Inquirer Archives