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A more stringent law is needed to curb illegal wildlife trade as culprits are not deterred by the punishments provided under Republic Act (RA) 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001, according to Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.

“RA 9147 should be amended to include a mandatory minimum jail term of six years for those found guilty of the criminal acts defined under the law,” Cimatu said. “This is to make sure that convicted offenders will be able to serve their sentence and will not be eligible for probation.”

Cimatu made the statement after a task force under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) arrested two suspected illegal wildlife traders during an entrapment operation conducted in Tondo, Manila, on July 10.

The Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade or Task Force POGI recovered 42 various species of threatened and endangered turtles with an estimated value of P550,000 from Eumir Rommel Raganit and Bruce Kenneth Tan, who are now facing charges for violation of RA 9147.

Among those recovered from the suspects were 11 heads of black pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii), which is classified as “critically endangered” under DENR Administrative Order No. 2019-09 entitled “Updated List of Threatened Philippine Fauna and their Categories.”

The black pond turtle is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES, which means that the species is threatened with extinction and is not allowed for commercial trade.

Task Force POGI is composed of wildlife enforcers from various agencies, including the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the DENR and the Environmental Crime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Dr. Rogelio Demelletes, BMB senior ecosystems specialist and Task Force POGI head, said the illegal wildlife trade has been showing no sign of slowing down even during the pandemic.

The task force, he said, has been able to confiscate P37-million worth of illegal wildlife and nabbed a total of seven individuals in five separate operations conducted since March, when the country was first placed under community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19.

One of those arrested was repeat offender Sharon Jonjon Lim, who was caught selling illegally trafficked raptors in Sampaloc, Manila, on June 6. In July last year, Lim was also apprehended for illegal possession and trade of 13 rare animals, including three peregrine falcons worth P250,000 in the black market.

“We at the DENR Task Force POGI never let our guard down against illegal wildlife trade even as the country faces the worst public health crisis of this generation,” Demelletes said.

Despite government efforts, Demelletes said that wildlife trade and trafficking continued to prevail because the penalties provided in RA 9147 seemed “too light” to deter wildlife crime.

“The penalties appear to be not enough to make wildlife offenders stop their criminal acts as the fines are too low compared to the millions they earn from trading wildlife species,” Demelletes pointed out.

He added: “First time violators are also easily granted probation once convicted. They can also bail when caught. This proves that there is really a need for higher penalties and longer jail time for illegal wildlife trading and possession.”

Under RA 9147, the penalty depends not only on the act committed but also on the conservation status of the wildlife.

The highest penalties are imposed on those guilty of killing critically endangered wildlife—jail term of six years and one day to 12 years and/or payment of fine ranging from P100,000 to P1 million.

For hunting and trading, the penalty ranges from two to four years of imprisonment and/or fine of P30,000 to P300,000 for hunting and P5,000 to P300,000 for trading wildlife.

For the mere transport of wildlife, the penalty is six months to one-year imprisonment and/or P50,000 to P100,000 fine. #