Senator Cynthia Villar is seeking to strengthen Philippine wildlife conservation and protection mechanisms even as the constant exploitation of wild fauna and their habitats has been raising the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.
"There were studies suggesting that Covid-19 virus may have originated from bats and that the first people infected were traders in bat meat, who may have subsequently visited the Huanan seafood market, where the virus spread was first traced," Villar said.
Because of this, Villar said the need to fortify Philippine wildlife resources is more critical now as Filipinos have been confronted, and still continue to experience the ill-effects of the Covid-19 virus.
She stressed that there is more reason now to strengthen local policies on wildlife conservation and protection.
Despite the existence of related laws for more than 20 years, the lady senator said the incidence of wildlife crimes still thrive since they have evolved and grown.
The trade and transport of wildlife species have become widescale and transnational in nature. Also, those involved in wildlife crimes continue to innovate.
Villar said this phenomenon poses challenges to enforcement authorities and to the country’s existing policies and mechanisms.
Her Senate Bill (SB) 125, or the Revised Wildlife Resource Conservation and Protect Act, seeks to address, among others, the evolving nature of wildlife offenses and fortify the mechanisms in place to afford better protection to our wildlife resources.
While there have been successful arrests of wildlife violators and confiscation of wildlife specimens over the years, Villar noted there are many other violations that remain rampant and undetected.
The salient features of Villar's bill, which seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) No. 9147, are as follows:
• It recognizes the jurisdiction of Palawan Council for sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Bangsamoro Government over wildlife species in their respective territories;
• It addresses the crime of “wildlife trafficking” by providing its definition and commensurate penalties, and other strategies to deter the devious schemes of wildlife syndicates that are large-scale and transnational;
• It provides the definition of “wildlife laundering”;
• It includes control and management mechanism for invasive alien species, that threatens the survival of our local plants and animals;
It provides guidelines on the collection, possession and transport of wildlife, its by-products and derivatives;
• It provides increase in the penalties (imprisonment and/or fines) for illegal acts to serve as deterrent for the commission of wildlife crimes; and
`• It has provisions stating the application of the disputable presumption that wildlife offenses have been committed.