The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is seeking the amendment of the country’s wildlife law as culprits appear undeterred by the punishments provided for under it following the confiscation of an accumulated ₱37-million worth of illegal wildlife while the country was placed under community quarantine.
Just last July 10, the Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade or Task Force POGI under the DENR arrested two suspected illegal wildlife traders during an entrapment operation conducted in Tondo, Manila.
It recovered 42 various species of threatened and endangered turtles with an estimated value of ₱550,000 from Eumir Rommel Raganit and Bruce Kenneth Tan, who are now facing charges for violation of the Republic Act (RA) 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001.
Among those recovered from the suspects were 11 heads of black pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii), which is classified as critically endangered species under the DENR Administrative Order No. 2019-09 or the 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 which means that the species is threatened with extinction and is not allowed for commercial trade.
According to Rogelio Demelletes, DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) senior ecosystems specialist and Task Force POGI head, illegal wildlife trade has been showing no signs of slowing down even during the pandemic.
The task force, composed of wildlife enforcers from various agencies, including the BMB and the Environmental Crime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation, has been able to confiscate ₱37 million worth of illegal wildlife and nabbed a total of seven individuals in five separate operations conducted since March, he said.
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 apprehended for illegal possession and trade of 13 rare animals, including three peregrine falcons worth ₱250,000 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, he 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,” he said.
“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,” he added.
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 ₱100,000 to ₱1 million.
For hunting and trading, the penalty ranges from two to four years of imprisonment and/or fine of ₱30,000 to ₱300,000 for hunting and ₱5,000 to ₱300,000 for trading wildlife.
For the mere transport of wildlife, the penalty is six months to one-year imprisonment and/or ₱50,000 to ₱100,000 fine.
“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,” Secretary Roy Cimatu said.
“This is to make sure that convicted offenders will be able to serve their sentence and will not be eligible for probation,” he added.