WITH the value of illegal wildlife trade in the country pegged at P50 billion, it is not surprising that criminal syndicates would wish to cash in on the sale of endangered animal species utilizing both Clark and Subic as gateways for illegal wildlife activities.
In fact, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now intensifying its wildlife protection and conservation efforts in partnership with various law enforcement agencies and local government units.
A major consideration in the DENR’s monitoring is the Clark and Subic Freeport zones which have become convenient gateways of wildlife violators. Wildlife officers had recently called for the strict monitoring of the two freeports against wildlife trade.
The Asian Development Bank pegs the illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines at P50 billion a year (roughly equivalent to $1 billion). This includes the market value of wildlife and its resources, their ecological role and value, damage to habitats incurred during poaching, and loss in potential ecotourism revenues.
Subic and Clark
DENR information officer Don Guevarra said that various capacity building in support of efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade have been held to strengthen skills and knowledge of wildlife enforcement officers in the region to combat illegal wildlife trade. He added that isolated cases of illegal wildlife trade have been recorded in the region.
Subic and Clark freeports are considered the gateways for the sale of wildlife from the Philippines to countries in Europe and big buyers from China.
Guevarra said that illegal wildlife syndicates use Clark and Subic as entry for transporting illegal wildlife trade because of their strategic locations. Animals sold through these trades are usually poached from Aurora province and as far as Palawan.
Wildlife officers said that it has become easier for buyers to place orders through the internet and even social media platforms, making enforcement efforts even more challenging.
Just recently, the DENR hosted trainings with stakeholders and officers from the said freeports. Under the Wildlife Law, the DENR is tasked to establish wildlife trade monitoring units on major seaports and airports.
The DENR, in a bid to put an end to illegal wildlife trade in Central Luzon, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), recently conducted a one-day training and orientation to some 60 officials and personnel of Philippine Ports Authority, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Customs, Philippine National Police (PNP), PNP Maritime Group, the Subic Bay Ecology Center and Law Enforcement Office and the local government of Subic, which was held in Subic Bay Freeport.
According to Michael Lopez, DENR wildlife officer in Central Luzon, the training was aimed to strengthen the knowledge of the participants on various local and international policies governing wildlife trade.
Central Luzon as shipment point
Central Luzon is considered as the transshipment point of illegal wildlife trade. The provinces of Aurora and Nueva Ecija are considered as poaching sites of wildlife and Zambales and Bulacan provinces as major confiscation sites of wildlife, according to the DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau and USAid-Protect Wildlife.
DENR records show that seven vulnerable wildlife, including four pangolins and three cobras both under the “red list” of animals, classified as under threat of extinction, were turned over to the DENR after a successful operation with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Clark International Airport against a suspected Chinese wildlife smuggler in 2016.
Since 2015, the DENR has confiscated 34 various species of reticulated pythons, long-tailed macaques, pond turtles, osprey, monitor lizard and owls.
In 2017, the joint wildlife enforcement operation of DENR and NBI in Bulacan resulted in the seizure of more than 100 illegally traded animals, including the blue-naped parrot and Palawan hill myna, both considered as endangered species.
Just this 2018, turtles and hatchlings were released at the West Philippine Sea while a couple of wild lizards were turned-over to Botolan Wildlife Farm, an accredited Rescue Center in Zambales. The said animals were confiscated in an operation in Zambales by the DENR and the Philippine National Police.
Impact on ecosystems
According to the DENR, the Philippines is a mega-diverse country hosting more than 52,177 described species, more than half of which are only found in the country.
But due to over-exploitation, deforestation, land degradation, climate change, pollution—the Philippines is considered a “biodiversity hotspot” as the country continues to register an “alarming” rate of species destruction.
Illegal wildlife trade upsets the natural balance of biodiversity in an area when species are forcibly taken away from their natural habitats.
Guevarra said that wildlife plays important role in maintaining a well-balanced ecosystem.
“The decline in the population of one species to another may lead to an increase in the population of another species. This can result to infestation. That can be threat to food and agricultural production and balance of biodiversity,” Guevarra said.
This can also cause chaos in the natural food chain. Some plants and tree species also depends on animal pollination, if wildlife is lost it will also affect the propagation of plant species.
The DENR had recently established wildlife trafficking management units in Clark and Subic and is currently doubling efforts for programs to increase community participation on wildlife protection and conservation.
Current efforts also include the intensified monitoring of wildlife permit holders in the region and the use of Lawin Technology for fast monitoring of forest disturbances and wildlife violation.
Illegal possession and trading of endangered species is a violation of Section 27 of Republic Act (RA) 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.
The DENR said that wildlife law enforcement plays a crucial role in ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife resources, since illegal wildlife trade remains to be one of the primary threats to the region and the country’s abundant biodiversity.