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Privilege Speech: On Illegal Wildlife Trade

October 10, 2018

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues,

I wish to call the attention of this Chamber, and the public, to the prevailing illegal wildlife trade, an issue that is both a national and international concern for the Philippines.

Since our membership to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981, certain entities in our country have continued to partake in the wildlife crime. Nevertheless, we strived to uphold the goals of the Convention, which aims to protect endangered plants and animals from international commerce and trade, and ensure their survival.

In 2013, we were the first ASEAN country to destroy illegal ivory. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), led the destruction of an estimated five tons of ivory smuggled into our country through eight separate shipments from 1996 to 2009. The items were reported to have originated from Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda.

We have since intensified our efforts on this trade through the creation of the Philippines’ Operations Group on Ivory (POGI) under DENR, tasked to handle ivory smuggling cases. We have also implemented capacity building programs and awareness campaigns, as well as developed systems and tools in aid of enforcement.

These are all pursuant as well to Republic Act 9147 or the “Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act,” which seeks to conserve and protect wildlife species and their habitats and to regulate wildlife collection and trade.

Mr. President, because of the growing demand for ivory, an estimated 25,000 elephants, mostly coming from African countries, are killed on an annual basis. However, the elephants in the ivory trade are part of the larger web of illegal wildlife trade.

There are 30,000 more specimens of wildlife that are smuggled and sold in physical markets and, quite shockingly, over the internet on social media.

A study in the Philippines during a brief period between 2017 and 2018 documented nearly 900 ivory items for sale in markets and Facebook groups. At least 426 Indonesian birds were also monitored being sold on 20 Facebook groups during the same period.

The smuggling of birds into the Philippines is also considered a health risk due to the non-screening of these animals for potential diseases, such as bird flu.

Pangolins are also one of the most heavily trafficked mammals in the world[1] and the smuggling has grown so rapidly that 27 new global routes were opened for its illegal trade.[2] I note that one of the four main pangolin species involved is endemic to Palawan—the Philippine Pangolin.

Another species that can only be found in Palawan, the Philippine Pond Turtle, is now considered critically endangered due to intense poaching pressure. There have also been reports where live corals smuggled from our shores into other countries, such as Singapore and the United States, only to be placed in aquariums.

What is more alarming is that there have been reports suggesting of an emerging local market. In one case, certain species of birds, crocodiles, turtles, and other animals from Palawan, which is home to diverse species of wildlife, were being peddled in Metro Manila.

Mr. President, we must also recognize that illegal wildlife trade is an issue that impacts global security. It is a serious criminal transnational industry worth billions of pesos. Organized criminal networks and armed militia continue to benefit from the proceeds of this brutal and cruel trade.

The links between illegal wildlife trade and crime and corruption are recognized in international assemblies and is also included as a specific subsection to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal No. 15. It demands a global focus and response to tackle it, and we should therefore support the urgent call for united action.

We should communicate to the world that we are committed to resolving the growing problem of illegal wildlife trade, as it is related with greater issues of conservation, public health, and food security. I do not doubt that the Philippines can be a regional leader if we scale up our efforts and work together.

Given the continuous demand for wildlife products, compounded by the advent of modern information technologies, which allowed illegal wildlife traders to openly advertise their businesses online, it is high time that we revisit the relevant provisions of Republic Act 9147.

Penalties must be increased to deter more wildlife crime syndicates. Our learning institutions, especially in areas where poaching of Philippine wildlife occurs, must be made aware of this concern. We also need to promote ecotourism and other biodiversity-friendly enterprises to support the livelihood of local communities, as well as to continue building the capacities of personnel charged with the enforcement of our laws and commitments.

Mr. President, our domestic efforts to combat illegal wildlife trading from the start have not gone unnoticed. This is why, the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, as well as other development partners, have been supporting and have pledged to complement our action.

 

The UK Government, through the Darwin Initiative, has offered grants to two projects in the country: first, on sustainable community-based stewardship of freshwater resources in the Northern Philippines; and second, on socio-ecological resilience in coastal Philippines. The UK Space Agency will also support a 5.5-million-pound project that will use satellite technology to help our government tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in our waters.

US institutions, such as the Field Museum of Natural History, and the universities of Kansas, Lawrence, and Oklahoma, will continue to work with DENR on the inventory and assessment of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals—a partnership that started in the 1990s.

More recently, the US Government, through the Agency for International Development (USAID), initiated the Protect Wildlife Project, which will help conserve biodiversity and combat illegal wildlife trade, particularly in the areas of Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga, Palawan, and the SOCCKSARGEN Region.

The US Department of the Interior, through its International Technical Assistance Program, will also provide capacity building programs for national and local government units and communities to address critical threats to our country’s coastal and upland resources, as well as to promote good governance in enforcing environmental laws.

Meanwhile, the German Government, through the GIZ (or the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), has been implementing the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape (SSS) Project, which seeks to develop a “Wildlife Coordination and Communication Protocol” as enforcement strategy in the Marine Turtle Protected Areas Network of Palawan and Tawi-Tawi. It is a six-year project (from 2012 to 2018) being implemented under the Coral Triangle Initiative in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Moreover, the Global Environment Facility, through the World Bank, is also helping the Philippines through a three-year project called “Combatting Organized Environmental Crime in the Philippines” under the Global Wildlife Program.  This project, which will be implemented by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the DENR-BMB will work on legal and institutional reforms, capacity building in the law enforcement chain, and demand reduction on wildlife products.

Mr. President, the Philippines remained, according to Parties of the Convention, a “country of importance to watch” on ivory trafficking and other illegal wildlife trade. The is due to the fact that we continue to be a transit route between Africa and other Asian markets, but the proliferation of local wildlife trading especially on our social media also points out that we have perhaps become patrons of this crime.

While we reiterate our call for government agencies and local authorities, particularly the DENR and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, to strengthen their efforts to protect these rare and wonderful species from illegal trade, we also need to support global efforts that combat this crime.

We need to do our part by stopping domestic markets and working with other countries to share information and target traffickers, middlemen, and poachers. By breaking the cycle from our end, we also hope to interrupt and end the supply and demand chain overseas.

Thank you very much.

[1] https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/pangolin

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/pangolins-world-day-most-trafficked-mammal-scales-meat-china-africa-wwf-a8214726.html