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Palace calls for boycott of black coral jewelry

MANILA, Philippines—In a plea to preserve biodiversity, Malacañang on Thursday called for a boycott of jewelry made from black corals and urged Filipinos overseas to report the smuggling of marine treasures.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on climate change, slammed the failure of authorities to stop a “very alarming” poaching of the seas and called for an inquiry.

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“These corals do not just grow overnight. They take years to form. Destroying coral reefs is stealing the homes of marine life organisms,” she said.

President Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said the government needed “greater scrutiny” to stop the trading of black corals.

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The public, Lacierda said in a statement, needs to be educated “to do its part not to make plunder pay off poachers.”

“This requires, among others, the buying public to boycott those who sell jewelry made from black coral. We call on consumers the world over to make a similar commitment to saving the biodiversity of our seas, by refusing to buy black coral items,” he said.

Lacierda also asked Filipinos abroad “to look into” black corals sold overseas that may include those smuggled from the Philippines and passed off as exports from elsewhere.

Customs authorities have announced the seizures of shipments of black corals worth P15 million in Cebu province last week and more than P35 million worth of endangered turtles and other marine life in Manila two weeks ago.

Experts believed that about 7,000 hectares of reef complex—twice the size of Manila—had been destroyed when poachers harvested more than 21,000 black coral pieces off Cotabato province.

Senate inquiry

Legarda on Thursday filed a resolution directing the Senate committees of climate change and environment and natural resources to conduct an inquiry into the poaching and introduce remedial measures.

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“This is indeed very alarming considering that this kind of environmental exploitation has been banned for 13 years,” she said. “A damage of this magnitude could have been prevented with the strict implementation of the law.”

Mundita Lim, chief of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, said the Philippines was at the center of an international network of smugglers and poachers exploiting marine resources in Southeast Asia.

At the same time, however, Lim acknowledged the government did not have the resources to deal with the problem.

“It appears that it is a wide network. The demand is not just in the Philippines but abroad, too. There is a network of smugglers and poachers that has to be identified,” she said.

Marine mammals

The contraband, estimated to be worth $10 million annually, goes to the United States, Taiwan and China, she told the Inquirer on Thursday.

Lim said her bureau also had received reports that marine mammals, such as whales, dugongs and sharks, were being poached and smuggled.

The meat of sharks is used for soup, while the bones of the other animals are dried and powdered for medicinal purposes.

Lim lamented that her bureau did not have a monitoring capacity and had to depend on the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

“We don’t have people to do it,” she said. “Our coastal and marine office is manned by only two persons.”

The bureau’s budget is only P400 million a year, she said.

No authority

In Lucena City, Asis Perez, incoming BFAR director, said his agency lacked the authority to enforce environmental laws.

Perez, an environmental lawyer and activist, said in a phone interview that he would focus on educating the citizenry.

“Most of our people are not yet aware of the importance of our corals. We have to seriously address that problem,” he said.

Fernando Hicap, chair of the leftist fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, called for increased penalties to enforce laws against the gathering and selling of corals.

“The punishment for violators is very light, with imprisonment of six months to two years and a fine of P2,000 to P20,000,” he said. “It was never meant to protect the country’s resources from big-time poachers.” With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Jocelyn R. Uy, Kristine L. Alave and Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon

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TAGS: Black coral jewelry, boycott, Climate Change, coral reef, Cotabato, environment, poaching, Sen. Loren Legarda
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