Senate orders arrest of couple tagged in smuggling of black corals
MANILA, Philippines – Incensed over the government’s apparent failure to go after syndicates behind massive marine poaching, the Senate on Wednesday ordered the arrest of Olivia Li and husband Joe Pring who were allegedly behind the failed attempt to smuggle some P35 million worth of black sea corals and other marine species.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile himself moved to arrest the couple following their failure to show up at the environment committee hearing into rampant marine resources poaching in the country.
“We will have a manhunt against his man and we will show these law enforcement agencies how we do a manhunt,” he said. “You cannot police the entire nation and the only way to do it is to send some of [the poachers] to jail and let’s see if anybody will do it again.”
The senator became furious when he learned that the National Bureau of Investigation had filed at least two poaching cases against Pring, a Chinese national operating a company with his wife in Zamboanga City, one in 2005 and another in 2007.
But until now, both cases are still “pending for preliminary investigation” before the Zamboanga city prosecutor’s office, under a certain fiscal Jimenez Jr., according to Manuel Almendares, NBI director for Region 9.
“That prosecutor has a lot of explaining to do,” Enrile said. “It’s very obvious that these people are dribbling the case … an inordinate delay like this has a cause and I suspect that the cause is pesos and centavos.”
Almendares said Pring – who also went by the names Li Yu Ming, Jose Pring, Jo Peng Li, and Jo Peng – was “nowhere to be found” in Zamboanga as of Tuesday. Enrile asked the committee to issue an order freezing “all the objects of this crime without the authority of the Senate.”
In the absence of Pring and his wife, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, committee chairman, grilled Kim Atillano, owner of JKA Transport System, which shipped Pring’s apparent contraband. Also in attendance was Ireneo Penuliar, Atillano’s contact in Manila.
With his lawyer coaching him throughout the hearing, Atillano insisted he was not liable for the smuggled black sea corals, endangered turtles and other marine specimens, which his company had shipped.
Atillano said he began doing business with Olivia Li either in 2009 or 2010. He said a previous shipment involving “shark’s skin, bones, and sea cucumber.”
“Mr. Atillano, I’m sorry to say this, but it appears that you are in cahoots [with Li] in this transaction,” Zubiri told him.
Amid Zubiri’s questioning, which apparently failed to extract anything of value from Atillano, Enrile walked into the room and advised the government to just include all suspects in the criminal charges.
“Charge all of them,” Enrile aid. “No one is exempted. The burden is on them to prove their innocence.”
At one point, Enrile told law enforcers to be more aggressive against people destroying the country’s marine resources. “You cannot stop poaching in the marine resources of this country unless you shoot some of them. That’s how brutal it is. That’s law enforcement,” he said.
Enrile added: “I’m not anti-Chinese. I’m not a racist. But if you see the list of all violations of the law here, you will always see short surnames. That’s a fact. And it’s about time that we call a spade a spade.”
The senator said the government had the right to “exercise self-defense” against poachers “committing a crime against the Filipino people.”
“Nobody planted those corals. God created them and they were destroying it. They’re causing injury to the livelihood of many people. They degrade the marine environment of the country,” he said.