Militant group demands action vs marine poachers
MANILA, Philippines—A militant fisherfolk organization demanded Thursday that the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources identify, and hale to court the poachers behind the recent “mass murder” of marine life off the South Cotabato coast.
“Name names and charge those behind the mass murder of marine environment before any appropriate court. The missing link is the names of people behind this long-running syndicate and major plunder of Philippine marine resources,” said Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap.
But in the same breath, it lamented that the government cannot curb the syndicate that continues to plunder the country’s rich waters because of the puny penalties under the law that supposedly protects endangered and rare marine life.
Hicap said big-time poachers funded by foreign and influential corporations can easily buy their freedom since the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 provides only for small fines and little time in jail for violators.
“While the law bans the gathering and selling of corals, the punishment of violators is very light, with imprisonment of six months to two years and a fine of P2,000 to P20,000,” said Hicap.
“It was never meant to protect the country’s resources from big-time poachers,” he added.
Two weeks ago, Customs officials thwarted a plan to smuggle out of the country P35 million worth of stuffed turtles of the endangered kind, black corals and sea shells.
Pamalakaya said the “rape of the Philippine ocean” was a running story in the country.
The group pointed to a US-based company, Shell Horizons Inc., reportedly engaged in the wholesale harvesting and selling of corals from the Philippines.
“[The firm’s] website, viewed 10 million times since 1998, parades itself as ‘US Largest Wholesaler of Seashells and Seashell Products, Finest Quality Seashells and Souvenirs Since 1976,” according to the group.
A check on the website showed the company was selling exotic seashells and corals. But it noted that none of the corals it was selling came from the Philippines.
Pamalakaya reminded the government that the Philippines was a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which strongly prohibits the harvesting and trading of corals.
“This long-running crime of plunder and environmental destruction must be stopped,” said Hicap.
The government must exercise all its powers and mobilize all its resources to stop such “transnational predator” from further destroying the country’s marine biodiversity, he added.
The Philippines forms the central core of the “coral triangle,” which refers to the triangular area of the tropical marine waters also of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and East Timor.
The “coral triangle” is home to over 500 species of reef-building corals. The country’s 7,107 islands encompass some 27,000 square kilometers of coral reefs.