By Shaira Panela
Despite anti-animal trafficking laws, the number of wildlife confiscated from poachers in the Philippines shot up from 2010 to 2013—most alarmingly in terms of the number of seized mammals, which exploded 1,600% over that period.
The first half of 2014 alone shows a high number of confiscated reptiles, while the number of birds varies from year to year, according to the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-BMB), the agency tasked to monitor, protect and conserve wildlife in the country.
It has been over a decade since Republic Act 9147—which criminalizes the collecting, hunting, possessing, trading and transporting wildlife —was enacted in 2001. And yet, to this day, crimes against wildlife remain rampant.
However, the government has had some success in recent years by sourcing tips from social media.
In the first half of 2014 alone, the Philippine government seized 523 animals and some 300 wildlife by-products such as stuffed turtles and carapaces, according to DENR data.
Among the latest species confiscated were serpent eagles, white bellied sea eagles, monitor lizards, and crested goshawks.
The DENR has even launched more aggressive measures to curb the illegal wildlife trade: in 2013, for example, agents crushed P400 million worth of ivory as part of an ongoing campaign. On the same day, it also instituted an operations group on ivory and illegal wildlife trade.
DENR-BMB director Theresa Mundita Lim told GMA News Online that illegally collected and traded endemic and indigenous wildlife species “are (still) being sold at petshops and other stores in Cartimar, Pasay City, and Aranque, Manila City; San Jose del Monte Sunday Market in Bulacan, Hulo in Malabon, and Tarua Market in Cavite.”
“Other areas reached by the illegal wildlife shipments are Navotas, Bocaue Saturday Market in Bulacan, Hulong Duhat, Bangkal, Makati City, Lipa Sunday Market in Lipa City, Batangas Hulong Duhat in Malabon, and Tagaytay Sunday Market in Tagaytay City, Cavite,” she added.
Lim also heads the national focal point for the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), a regional inter-government law enforcement network established in 2005 designed to combat illegal wildlife trade. (http://www.asean-wen.org/index.php/about-us/what-is-asean-wen)
“Since the ASEAN-WEN was established in 2005, a lot of achievements and successes have been reported and acknowledged, although a lot still remains to be done,” said Chrisgel Ryan Ang Cruz, assistant senior officer of the ASEAN-WEN Program Coordination Unit.
Ang Cruz cited several gaps, including the differing priorities in the region, the lack of funding, the perception of the seriousness of trafficking, and the difference among the various ASEAN countries' trafficking laws and their respective enforcement capacities, among others.
The ASEAN's “long porous borders” also make policing difficult if not impossible.
Ang Cruz also said that sustaining the ASEAN-WEN's regional coordinating unit is also something that needs to be considered as there are still a lot of gaps in coordination and communication among relevant agencies within each country.
Nevertheless, the DENR-BMB said that there have been some improvements since the agency teamed up with the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, and other local law enforcement agencies.
Lim told GMA News Online that, from 2011 to 2014, the agency managed to file at least 44 criminal complaints against wildlife law violators. However, preliminary investigations of these complaints are still in progress in various courts.