Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje on Wednesday (May 25) ordered DENR lawyers to start summary proceedings against personalities behind the smuggle try of some P35-million worth of turtles and corals seized from two container vans last May 1 aboard a vessel that came from Cotabato Province.

Paje gave the order as he condemned the poachers and their financiers who, he said, “have practically robbed the present and future generations of Filipinos” the benefits that would have come from these marine species in unquantifiable terms and should face the full extent of the law “in whatever way necessary.”

The incident comes at a time when the DENR is shoring up its efforts to stop wildlife trade through stricter enforcement of wildlife laws and more aggressive legal actions against violators of the country's environmental laws through the prosecution in special courts – or green courts – that have been designated by the Supreme Court.

“We shall certainly act with dispatch to make sure that the suspects face the punishment to the fullest extent,” Paje stressed, adding that he has already tasked wildlife experts of DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to dig deeper into the incident and identify other personalities that should be charged besides a certain Exequiel Navarro, whom customs officials had earlier identified as the consignee of the contraband.

Navarro was already charged with violation of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The code bans gathering, owning, selling or exporting of ordinary precious and semiprecious corals and provides a prison term of six months to two years, and a fine of up to PhP500,000.
Paje ordered DENR lawyers to find out if Navarro could be charged for violating the country’s Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (Republic Act 9147).

Section 28 of R.A. 9147 states that any person who kills and destroys a critically endangered species may face an imprisonment of a maximum of 12 years and/or fine of as much as P1 million.

The shipper of the contraband declared the contents of the container vans as rubber aboard a vessel that left Cotabato on April 29. The shipment arrived at the Eva Macapagal Terminal in South Harbor, Manila.

But inspectors from the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, acting on a tip from an informant, found around 196 kilos of sea whips corals, 161 heads of preserved hawksbill and green turtles, 7,300 pieces of seashells and 21,169 pieces of black corals.