By Handog Malaya-Vera, Kristina Heredera and Gerry Albert Corpuz
MANILA,Philippines- ” “Name the rapists of the Philippine ocean.”
The challenge was posed by the militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) to the Bureau of Customs (BoC) a day after officials revealed that some P 15 million worth of black corals which were shipped from Manila and seized in Cebu were intercepted on May 19.
Two weeks ago, the BoC also intercepted a contraband recovered 134 bundles, or 21, 169 pieces of “sea fan” black corrals and 15 bundles, or 196 kilograms of “sea whip” black corrals taken from the Moro Gulf and Sulu Sea off Cotabato.
“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. The Aquino government should stop deluding us with press releases. What the people need is real action,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.
Hicap said Customs commissioner Angelito Alvarez, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Reform (BFAR) should lead in filing appropriate charges against poachers behind the grand plunder of Philippine seas.
“We don’t want this issue to be treated as publicity escapade for Malacanang and the rest of the Benigno Simeon Aquino III Cabinet household in the Palace. The issue is so serious and it merits serious solutions,” the Pamalakaya leader stressed. The BoC said the poachers also killed 161 endangered turtles, one them was a male aged 80 to 100 years old. It said the seized goods had a market value of P 35 million.
According to BoC, the poachers had probably explored 7,000 hectares of coral reefs which is double the size of Manila. Hicap lamented that the country’s Fisheries Code of 1998 or Republic Act 8550 was never meant to protect the country’s resources from big time poachers.
The Pamalakaya leader noted that while the law bans the gathering and selling of corals, the punishment for violators is very light with imprisonment of from six months to two years and a fine from P 2,000 to P 20,000. “What is P 2,000 and P 20,000 and six month to 2 years imprisonment?
The big time poachers funded by foreign corporations and influential entities can buy their freedom and resume plunder activities anytime they want. This is the Philippine republic, the home of corrupt bureaucrat capitalists and they will set them free in exchange for juicy shares,” Hicap added.
Pamalakaya said the rape of the Philippine ocean is a running story in the Philippines. The group noted that last month, a US based firm was reported having been engaged in the wholesale harvesting and selling of coral reefs from the Philippines.
The American firm indentified was the US firm Shell Horizons whose company website proudly peddles its business. The website has been viewed 10 million times since 1998 parades itself as “US Largest Wholesaler of Seashells and Seashell Products, Finest Quality Seashells and Souvenirs Since – 1976.”
"This long-running crime of plunder and environmental destruction must be stopped. The Philippine government should exercise all its powers and mobilize all its resources to stop this transnational predator from further destroying the livelihood of the people, the country’s patrimony and national environment,” the group said.
Pamalakaya said it is now imaginable how many thousands of tons of coral reefs had been sourced by Shell Horizons from the country since this illegal and detestable practice had been going on unchecked by the previous administrations and the present Aquino government. Shell Horizons boasts of selling corals and seashells, among hundreds of products, purportedly sourced from the Philippines.
Pamalakaya reminded President Aquino that the Philippines, being a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora strongly prohibits the harvesting and trading of corals.
In an article published by Harvard Environmental Law Review, it says reefs in the Philippines are being decimated by activities such as harvesting for export. At present the United States is the main importer of stony corals from the Philippines as curios, even though legislation such as the[Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act put to task the government to enforce the ban the collection on our own reefs.
More than half of the Philippines’ exports of ornamental coral and exotic reef fish are exported to the United States, according to the article. The Philippines forms the central core of the Coral Triangle and is the world’s second-largest archipelago. The country is known for its rich coral reef given its 7,107 islands which encompass some 27,000 square kilometers of coral reef.
Experts say the Philippines and the coral triangle region is ‘the center of world marine diversity’ – an area where a single square kilometer can keep on producing over 40 metric tons of fresh snapper, grouper and other forms of seafood year on year. According to experts, with proper protection, these coral reefs can eradicate Asian poverty and feed billions – a coral-coated cornucopian horn unlike any other.
The DENR said coral reefs are the habitat, breeding, nursery and feeding grounds of fish and other marine organisms. They buffer wave action and protect coastlines and provide areas for tourism and recreation. Likewise, they serve as a rich source of medicinal products. Study shows that healthy coral reefs in the Philippines can supply as much as 35 tons/km/year of edible and economically valuable fish and invertebrates on the assumption that ecologically sound fishing methods are used all over the country.
Coral reefs are important to archipelagic Philippines where a considerable number of people depend on fishing for livelihood. The country’s coral reefs have many economic, cultural and environmental benefits. The structure of the reefs protects the coastline from the eroding action of the ocean by acting as wave breakers. During typhoons and hurricanes, the reefs act as buffer zones that protect the coastal communities.
Pamalakaya said fisherfolk depend on the reefs for their daily living, mainly through fishing. Early this year, the government said that coral reefs are in a truly sorry and endangered state. According to government data, only 25 percent of mangroves are left and about 5 percent coral reefs are in excellent condition. #