Palawan police foil smuggling of 50 giant sea turtlesBy Redempto Anda
Inquirer Southern Luzon
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—A crack unit of the Philippine National Police-Maritime based in Bataraza, southern Palawan, uncovered on Thursday a smuggling operation of giant sea turtles believed to be bound for the Chinese seafood market, reporters here learned Friday morning.
Col. Rico Payungga, head of the PNP Maritime-Special Boat Unit (SBU) based in southern Palawan, said they have so far confiscated an estimated 50 marine turtles, most of them reportedly weighing between 50 to 70 kilos each, in Bahayan Island, a remote community which is part of Barangay Sebaring in Palawan’s southernmost municipality of Balabac.
“At least two of the turtles were found dead,” he said. SBU members were still conducting search operations on the island, he added.
Marine turtles are classified as endangered and are banned from being traded under various international agreements.
Payungga said the turtles were found hidden in vegetated areas and were believed to be awaiting shipment by Chinese buyers.
Acting on a tip, an SBU team headed by Insp. Demetrio Sabbaluca initially recovered on Wednesday night 12 live sea turtles. Residents interviewed by team members said the turtles were to be fetched by a Chinese trader with connections to known local officials.
The seizure was the second similar incident in the area in two months. In early June, the same team raided a temporary holding area of live sea turtles on Ameril Island, confiscating 17 turtles. Several local Moro traders were implicated in the illegal trading activity.
The PNP Maritime-SBU is a result of joint efforts of the US Embassy in Manila, the PNP and the Puerto Princesa City government in 2006 to fund a project that would develop a small maritime law enforcement unit capable of carrying out maritime surveillance and response operations.
This project includes the recruitment and training of personnel, construction of a headquarters building for the SBU in Palawan and the purchase of four patrol boats.
The SBU is based in Puerto Princesa and is deployed in southwestern Philippines in the region between Palawan and Mindanao. It coordinates with both the existing Special Boat Unit of the Indonesian Polisi Perairan as well as the Royal Malaysian Marine Police.