Church, State chase leads on ivory traffic-A A +A
Thursday, September 27, 2012
DIFFERENT church and state groups will investigate the trade and collection of religious items made from ivory, following a magazine article that quoted a Cebu priest on the trade.
The Cebu-based and National Commission on Cultural Heritage of the Church, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will conduct separate inquiries.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma will tap the Archdiocesan Commission on the Cultural Heritage of the Church to investigate religious items made from new ivory, including the collection of Msgr. Cristobal Garcia.
Garcia, the Archdiocesan Commission on Worship chairman, was interviewed by writer Bryan Christy for an article in the October issue of the National Geographic magazine titled “Blood Ivory”.
Palma, who is also the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president, has also directed the church’s National Commission on Cultural Heritage to formulate guidelines in the ownership of ivory-made religious items.
“The Church does not condone ivory smuggling or other illegal activities, although in the past, ivory was one of the materials used in the adornment of liturgical worship,” the archbishop said.
“While these ivory artifacts crafted long before the ban are considered the cultural heritage of the Church, in no way does she encourage the use of ivory for new implements,” he added.
Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Julito Cortes will make follow-up actions with regards to heritage conservation. He is the CBCP’s chairman on cultural heritage.
The DENR 7 has organized a team to conduct a field investigation led by Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Cebu Richard Abella with Protected Areas and Wildlife Division chief Jose Layese and Ariel Rica.
“The investigation will not only focus on certain persons but will also try to look into the local situation,” said DENR 7 Regional Executive Director Dr. Isabelo R. Montejo in a statement.
“We are now closely coordinating with other law enforcement agencies, particularly the Bureau of Customs and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and other concerned authorities on the reported smuggled goods,” he added.
In a statement that was delivered during a press conference in Cebu City yesterday, Archbishop Palma reiterated that the Church supports the ban on ivory.
Palma also clarified the claims made by the National Geographic writer on the perception of religious icons among Filipinos.
“While it is true that icons are venerated by us because through them we are able to tangibly express our faith in God and our devotion to the saints, in no way does the Church teach that these icons are in fact God Himself or the saints themselves,” he said.
As to Garcia, the archbishop said “the right of the person concerned for a fair and just hearing” should be considered.
“The account given by the National Geographic Magazine needs to be assessed as to its veracity, considering that the article smacks of bias against religious practices,” he added.
Garcia is known as a collector of religious items and antique artifacts, and has an annual display of Nativity scenes at the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Black Nazarene in Barangay Cansojong in Talisay City.
Msgr. Garcia’s most important piece could be the sculpture of the baby Jesus made of wax, handed down from his great-grandmother Doña Agustina Escaño. The fair-skinned baby Jesus is featured with blond hair, lying on its right side inside a musical box that plays a Spanish lullaby, the Niño Roro.
Another is a rare image of a boy carved from a whole piece of ivory tusk, which he showed Sun.Star Cebu during a visit last December 2011.
Archbishop Palma said there was a group of people who approached him to say they were told by Christy that he was doing a report on the devotion to the Santo Niño.
“They felt betrayed that he (Christy) wrote on ivory worship,” he said.
Christy relayed to historian Trizer Mansueto through an email dated Sept. 25, 2012, that he was able to read Sun.Star Cebu’s story on local reactions to his article.
Mansueto, who met Christy in Bantayan town last year, shared some of the contents of the email.
“As you know, I spent a great deal of time to understand the deeper meaning of holy images in Cebu and the Philippines. It was important to me that I tell a story that was honest to the people and their religious beliefs. I tried very hard not to bring any judgment to the story but to let those in it reveal their own motivations,” said Christy.
“While much is being made of the smuggling part of the story, I also think the main point of the story is to get people to think about the many kinds of devotion--to God, to wildlife, to ecosytems, to legal systems. It is only by global understanding that the world can improve,” he added.
Christy voiced hope that Catholic leaders would “press the church’s core values of honoring life to protect those who are subjected to corruption caused by the ivory trade, which is causing so much harm around the world not only to elephants but also to rangers, African citizens, and honest Filipinos.”
Archbishop Palma differentiated the collection of antique ivory items and religious artifacts made from new ivory.
“There are antique collectors, (which is) part of what well-off or well-to-do (individuals) do,” he said.
“We discourage people from owning new ivory items. There is the law, the ban, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
We should not engage in any illegal activity. We discourage the use of ivory for new implements,” he added.
Palma acknowledged Christy’s point of view toward the end of the article, “We don’t kill for this kind of worship.”
“The Holy Father has, time and again, spoken about how precious is life. Life is inter-related. It is unfortunate many take life for granted,” said Palma.
“When we think of the slaughter of elephants, we kneel and strike our breast. We are all a party to this. With the laws, we are reminded, no more!” he said.
A team from the NBI in Manila will arrive in Cebu City today to start its investigation.
NBI 7 Director Edward Villarta told reporters the personnel from the Environmental and Wildlife Protection Investigation Division (EWPID), an NBI special unit, will not focus solely on Monsignor Garcia, who was named by the magazine article as someone who knows about the smuggling of ivory religious icons.
The NBI 7 will only assist the EWPID team, said Villarta.
Villarta declined to say how they will handle the investigation, but he said they will invite any “personality” they suspected to be involved in the ivory trade. He did not categorically say if Msgr. Garcia will be invited.
A global ivory trade ban was implemented in 1989.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 27, 2012.