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Legarda: Gov’t leaders must scale up implementation of laws to curb wildlife trafficking, emergence of COVID-like diseases

January 11, 2021

‪MANILA, 11 January 2021 — Deputy Speaker and Lone District of Antique Representative Loren Legarda strongly called on law enforcement authorities to strengthen the implementation of wildlife-related laws and policies, and intensify the campaign to fight illegal wildlife trade to help prevent the possible emergence of another global pandemic through zoonotic diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in the United States, zoonotic diseases (also known as zoonoses) such as COVID-19 are caused by harmful viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi which can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illness and even death.

These diseases are transmitted to humans due to the close connection between people and animals, through:

• Direct contact: Coming into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, mucous, feces, or other body fluids of an infected animal.

• Indirect contact: Coming into contact with areas where animals live and roam, or objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with germs. Examples include aquarium tank water, pet habitats, chicken coops, barns, plants, and soil, as well as pet food and water dishes.

• Vector-borne: Being bitten by a tick, or an insect like a mosquito or a flea.

• Foodborne: Eating or drinking something unsafe, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, undercooked meat or eggs, or raw fruits and vegetables that are contaminated with feces from an infected animal. Contaminated food can cause illness in people and animals, including pets.

• Waterborne: Drinking or coming in contact with water that has been contaminated with feces from an infected animal.

Studies have shown that wild animals consumed as food have been suspected to be responsible for the COVID-19 virus. But despite considerable research progress on COVID-19, the direct animal origin (intermediate host) of the virus remains ambiguous.

Legarda echoed the view of experts that the spread of the COVID-19 should serve as a wake-up call to everyone to stop the proliferation of illegal wildlife trade and consumption of exotic foods. The laws on Philippine wildlife protection and conservation must be strictly implemented, amid the escalating threats of biodiversity loss and the global pandemic due to zoonotic diseases.

Republic Act No. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources and Protection Act defines and penalizes illegal wildlife trade. Under the law, unlawful trading, possession and transport of wildlife species, as well as their derivatives and by-products, are punishable by a jail term of up to two years and a fine of not more than P200,000.

Legarda said that despite domestic laws and international trade regulations protecting the country’s wildlife, poaching and illegal trade continue. Difficulties in investigation, few successful arrests and prosecutions, and low penalties pose a challenge to efforts to curb wildlife trafficking in the country.

“Anyone who has had a loved one die of this disease knows the pain deeply and we owe it to them to make sure we do everything in our power to reduce the chances of another outbreak from lackluster enforcement of wildlife laws,” she stressed.

As the country works around the clock to provide adequate responses to arrest the spread of COVID-19 virus, Legarda said the government should also lead in addressing economic challenges and jumpstart resilient solutions to build back better and prevent zoonotic diseases. ###