Sato affirms PH fight vs illegal wildlife trade

Endangered black pond turtles. (WJC image)

Rep. Josephine “Nene” Ramirez Sato of Occidental Mindoro has affirmed the country’s commitment in combating illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and urged global leaders to work together to protect and conserve biodiversity.

Delivering the Philippine statement to the IWT Conference 2018 on 11 and 12 October at Evolution, Battersea Park, London, Sato declared the country’s push for “Bayanihan for Collective and Connected Actions to combat IWT.”

The London conference convened a global coalition against IWT as part of a coordinated global effort, and develop the valuable work taken forward under Vietnam and Botswana’s leadership at previous conferences and in international fora.

Sato, a biodiversity champion in the House of Representatives was invited by the United Kingdom to attend the event.

“In order to tackle this detestable trade successfully, it is vital that there is a commitment to intensified, rapid and concerted action by the highest levels of government and relevant international organizations,” a letter-invitation from the U.K. stated.

The letter was jointly signed by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Secretary of State Michael Gove of the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs, and Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt of the Department for International Development.

Sato said combatting IWT is a challenge that each and every country must conquer.

“I urge countries in South East Asia to initiate a regional initiative to ensure a collaborative and connected response against IWT,” Sato, head of the Philippine delegation to the London conference, said.

Sato said a whole of government approach – which aptly describes the Filipinos’ time-honored tradition of “bayanihan” or “heroism” is being adopted in the Philippines wherein all stakeholders are helping out to fight IWT.

While the Philippines proudly holds the record of being one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world which collectively holds 60 to 70 percent of the world’s biological resources; endowed with more than 50,000 species of wild flora and fauna, half of which can only be found in the country, it is also among the “hottest of the hot spots” being ranked as the 10th biodiversity hotspot in the world.

“Our forest cover is dwindling. Our coastal, marine and freshwater systems are suffering degradation. Our endemic and unique species are still endangered. Philippine genetic resources are exploited and utilized by foreign entities, but our communities and our country have yet to share the benefits derived from these,” she said.

The Philippines is not uniquely troubled by IWT, Sato said, adding that other countries face equally serious threats.

“The Philippines loses at least P50 billion a year due to IWT alone. These include revenue that should have been paid by illegal wildlife collectors and traders, the market value of the resources involved, the ecological role of the wild-collected resources and the damage to their habitats incurred during poaching,” Sato said.

But beyond the numbers and monetary equivalents, Sato expressed more alarm about the increased risks of people losing their livelihoods, communities and habitats like in Occidental Mindoro, a province south of Manila where the famous, but critically-endangered Philippine Tamaraw is endemic.

“Despite our ardent efforts to protect the Tamaraw and its habitat, it is still among the endangered species, as it is poached for its meat. While we are seeing a slow increase in its population, its less than 1,000 count means that more concerted efforts need to be done,” she said.

The Philippines has been stepping up its efforts to fulfill its commitments to the London Declaration on IWT, Sato assured.

The Philippines continues to work to eradicate the market for illegal wildlife products, she added.

The Philippines is the first non-elephant range state and the first in the ASEAN region, if not in Asia, to destroy the government’s stockpile of illegal elephant ivory.

As of 2018, at least 19 countries and states have followed suit and destroyed part of their stockpiles of illegal ivory.

Sato also boasted that while in the past, courier service providers were being used by unscrupulous traders, they are now the government’s partners in combating illegal wildlife trade.

“We have also launched the “stop IWT campaign” targeting agencies and private entities operating in major air and seaports. These include airline companies, boat and vessel operators, cargo forwarders and courier service providers. To date, the campaign has covered 20 air and seaports all over the Philippines,” she said.

Sato said the Philippines is currently rolling out the Philippine Wildlife Law Enforcement Action Plan, the country’s roadmap to address wildlife crimes for the next 10 years, from 2018-2028.

“It will also serve as a guide in prioritizing enforcement actions, fund-sourcing, resource allocation, and evaluating the impacts of enforcement work in the Philippines,” the lawmaker said.

As a legislator championing biodiversity protection and conservation, Sato filed House Bill 8320 entitled “An Act Providing For A Revised Wildlife Resources Conservation And Protection Act, Appropriating Funds Therefor And For Other Purposes” which aims to revise and update Republic Act 9147 or the Philippine Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

The enactment of the proposed measure will enable the Philippines to be more in step with its various international commitments such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Migratory Species and the London Declaration.

“This will be a key legislation on the protection of wildlife and their habitats, and on the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources from wildlife,” Sato said.

The proposed measure institutionalizes coordinated law enforcement among national and local governments and law enforcement agencies. It expands the scope of prohibited acts including wildlife laundering and will provide stricter fines and longer prison terms for violators and perpetually bans erring government officials and employees from public service.

More importantly, it will ensure effective implementation and yearly budgets will be allocated.

p: wjg