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Senate wants wildlife trade kept in check

PHILSTAR FILE PHOTO/ GERRY LEE GORIT

SENATORS said the penalties for wildlife trafficking are currently not strong enough to deter the growing trade in wild animal species.

“Penalties have become outdated and mere slaps on the wrist when compared to the severity of wildlife trafficking,” Senator Cynthia A. Villar said at a hearing on Tuesday.

“The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic made us realize the importance of strengthening the conservation of wildlife. It is the constant exploitation of the wild that raises the risk of zoonotic disease transmissions,” she added.

The joint hearing of the committees on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change; Finance, Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation and Futures Thinking, and Ways and Means, was called to draft the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 11898 or the Extended Producer Responsibility Act.

The law contains guidelines on wildlife conservation and protection.

Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Y. Loyzaga said that the current law discouraged wildlife-related crimes to some extent but failed to deter wildlife traffickers “who take advantage of the gaps in the legislation.”

“The potential value of wildlife has captured the interest of large organized criminal syndicates. Globalization has created a new platform and deceptive means for illegal wildlife trade at the expense of our country’s wildlife resources. This has led to the need to enhance our laws,” she said.

Ms. Loyzaga said that the government should pass more stringent laws and increase penalties for criminals.

“The Philippines has suffered a loss of P50 billion due to the illegal wildlife trade… it has become a destination and shipping point,” she added.

She proposed amendments to the law, including penalizing the crime of wildlife trafficking as a separate offense and classifying it as a transnational offense. She also proposed that crimes committed by two or more persons be treated as organized crime.

“It’s high time to add the threats to biodiversity like overexploitation. It’s also time to make the health of our ecosystem as a priority (around which to) center all our plans and policies,” she said.

ASEAN Center for Biodiversity Director Alvin C. Diesmos said controlling the illegal wildlife trade will help mitigate the risk of pandemics.

“We appreciate this timely effort in response to the growing threat of wildlife trade in the region (and) the importance of protecting our wildlife resources to reduce risks of future pandemics,” he said.

“Southeast Asia is both a source and transit point for illegally traded wildlife. The Philippines can take the lead in working with ASEAN neighbors,” he added.

Forest Management Bureau legal officer Ray Thomas F. Kabigting added that more wildlife protection officers are needed to cover not only animals, but also endangered plants. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson

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