Today, I woke up to a very disturbing headline in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, entitled “Coral Reefs Twice Size of Manila Destroyed”. Last Tuesday, officials from the Bureau of Customs reported that a “reef complex” off the coast of Cotabato Province was obliterated, destroying coral reefs and killing other marine life. In the opening paragraph of the article, “the crime was described as the ‘rape of the ocean’.”
What are the applicable laws?
- Section 27(a) of Republic Act No. 9147 entitled “Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act” penalizes illegal acts such as “(a) killing and destroying wildlife species…” Section 28 of the same law states that any person found guilty of such illegal act shall be imposed with “(b) imprisonment of four (4) and one (1) day to six (6) years and/or a fine of Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) to Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) if inflicted or undertaken against endangered species.”
- Section 91 of Republic Act 8550 or the “Fisheries Code of 1998”, outlaws “any person or corporation to gather, possess, sell or export ordinary, precious and semi-precious corals whether in raw or in processed form.” Any person found guilty of such act is penalized with six months to two years imprisonment and a fine from P2,000 to P20,000 or both at the discretion of the court.
- The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora prohibits the the collection and harvesting of endangered species such as coral reefs and sea turtles. We are a party to the Convention, and are bound by the same.
My work in the Senate
On numerous occasions on the Senate floor, including budget deliberations/hearings, I have continuously called for the increase in budget allocation to protect our resources. I know that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has actively sought for the same, reverberating the call for more budget for the environment. Unfortunately, this was a low priority of the previous administration. Perhaps this would serve as a wake up for the current administration.
On my part as a legislator, I have filed and sponsored on the floor a number of bills declaring various areas in the Philippines as protected areas. To name a few, these are the protected area bills which have been enacted into laws:
- Republic Act No. 9847 “Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape (MBSCPL) Act of 2009”
- Republic Act No. 10067 “Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) Act of 2009”
- Republic Act No. 9486 or “Central Cebu Protected Landscape Act of 2007”
- Republic Act No. 9494 or “Mimbilisan Protected Landscape Act of 2007”
Aside from these, I have proposed budget amendments for the protection of areas covered by the aforementioned laws and certain protected areas found in the provinces of Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, Bukidnon, and Davao.
One effective model for the protection of both marine resources and forests is to empower the locals thru education and awareness programs to protect their own environment. I have been supporting and pushing for more eco-tourism projects as well. This has proven to be successful in pilot projects across the country.
But despite the existence of these laws and international convention, for as long as the demand on our precious marine life remains, these crimes will continue. As a people, we must unite and declare war against these poachers and murders of our marine life. Government authorities must act with haste. It is important that we show our determination in prosecuting these heinous offenses. These criminals must be put behind bars and made to pay for their crimes.