DENR to crush seized elephant tusks, drops ceremonial burning

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AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will no longer hold a ceremonial burning of some five tons of seized elephant tusks but assured that it will push through with crushing the confiscated ivory on June 21.

DENR decided to do away with the “ceremonial burning” after environmental groups said it would send the wrong message that open burning could be acceptable.

In a statement, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said that he has ordered the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to forgo the planned “ceremonial burning.”

“I have already instructed the PAWB to forgo the ceremonial burning. But just the same, the confiscated tusks weighing about five tons will be crushed as planned using road rollers,” he said.

Paje explained that the DENR originally planned to burn only 20 pieces from the five tons of elephant tusks for at least five minutes using kerosene while the rest would be crushed with road rollers in the June 21 rites at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center (NAPWC).

The use of kerosene, he said, had been recommended by the Environmental Management Bureau.

Some 30 clean air advocates, including the Ecowaste Coalition and several environmental lawyers, opposed the “ceremonial burning” of the confiscated elephant tusks through letters sent to the DENR secretary and PAWB director Theresa Mundita Lim.

They wrote, “Even if the intent is only to conduct ‘ceremonial burning,’ we remain anxious as this will likely send a confusing message to the general public from the environmental authorities that open burning is acceptable. A photo showing the Environment Secretary setting a pile of tusks on fire may be interpreted as a tacit endorsement that ‘open burning is okay.”

The environmentalist groups said such a message would defeat the objectives of the agency’s Integrated Persistent Organic Pollutants Management Project, which has been aiming to prevent emissions from open burning of agricultural and municipal solid wastes. It will also violate the Clean Air Act.

They proposed that the seized elephants tusks be crushed and pulverized then buried for composting at the NAPWC, saying, “The eco-burial site can serve as a lasting memorial to our country’s commitment to ending illegal wildlife trade and to poaching that is mercilessly killing the elephants…It will be fitting to install a marker at the site made out of combined cement and crushed tusks in memory of the murdered elephants.”

The DENR set on Friday the destruction of some P420 million (US$10 million) worth of elephant tusks, intercepted and seized by customs officials since 2009, to show the country’s support for the global campaign to end the illegal trade of wildlife species.

The country is a signatory to the 1989 Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of flora and fauna which bans the ivory trade as a cause of the massive decline in elephant populations in Africa. PAWB is designated as the management authority under the Wildlife Resource Conservation and Protection Act.

Under the CITES, elephants are highly endangered and their international trade declared illegal. The demand for ivory on elephant tusks has caused the slaughter of the animals.

In 1997, the Philippines was included in the list of nine countries seen to be priorities of concern as trade routes and transit sites of the illegal ivory trade along with Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam. The other countries are the sources of elephant tusks: Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa; and countries of destination China and Thailand.

Foreign experts and anti-ivory trade advocates are expected to witness the event — a highlight in the celebration of the environment month — along with top executives of the justice department, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Customs Bureau, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the Philippine National Police.

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