A group of 20 civil society organizations has come together to call on the government to implement the full force of the law on the poaching of 500 dead and live sea turtles by 11 Chinese, who were included in a group of fishermen caught on May 6 in a fishing boat that contained over 200 live turtles such as the Hawks Bill and the Green Sea, considered as endangered species, off the Palawan coast.
According to the civil society organizations, the Chinese fishers should be punished with 12 years of imprisonment and a fine of P 1 million each, as stated under the Philippine Wildlife Act of 1997 or Republic Act 9147. All the species of sea turtles found in the Chinese boat are protected by the Wildlife Act and mandated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Department (DENR) Administrative Order 2004-15.
Fearing for government intervention, there should be no backdoor negotiations or any diplomatic solutions with China. They have violated the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 or Republic Act 8550, particularly Sections 5, 11 and 97 among others. The Fisheries Code states that Philippine waters are for the exclusive use of Filipinos and, both the DENR and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources under the Department of Agriculture agree that there should be no taking of threatened species. Moreover, the Fisheries Code of 1998 states clearly that a fine of $100,000 in addition to the confiscation of its catch and equipment. It also states imprisonment of 12 to 20 years and/or a fine of P120,000.
Sea turtles travel thousands of kilometers, returning to the place they were born to give birth to the next generation. Even though they lay 50 to 200 eggs, only one is expected to survive to adulthood. All seven species of sea turtles around the world are threatened according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The Philippines hosts five of the seven sea turtle species. A DENR-managed protected area is located just off the southern tip of Palawan and home to green sea turtles (chelonia mydas), the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area. It is jointly managed by Malaysia and the Philippines. Local initiatives to protect marine sea turtles will undoubtedly be threatened if poaching remains unabated.
Dr. Margarita Lavides, head of Research at Haribon Foundation which is a member of the NGOs for Fisheries Reform explains that “Sea turtles play an important role in marine ecosystems by maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs, providing key habitat for other marine life, helping to balance marine food webs and facilitating nutrient cycling from water to land. When sea turtles graze on seagrass, they increase the productivity and nutrient content of seagrass blades. The decline of green sea turtles can result in a loss of productivity in the food web—including commercially exploited reef fish—decreasing the amount of protein-rich food available for people.”
These Chinese poachers have violated several laws of the Philippines. The group fully supports the actions of the Philippine National Police, the legislators of Palawan, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development and the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR. Any ‘howling’ and other forms of harassment from China should be met with indifference.
The civil society organizations included in this call for justice include the following: Center for Empowerment and Resource Development; Earth Island Institute; Environmental Legal Assistance Center Inc.; Haribon Foundation; National Union of Rural Based Organization Inc.; NGOs for Fisheries Reform Inc.; Philippine Grassroots Engagement in Rural Development Foundation Inc.
Philippine Locally Managed Marine Area Network; Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement; Restore Outdoor Club; Save the Fisheries Now Network; Save the Philippine Seas; Sentro ng Ikauunlad ng Katutubong Agham at Teknolohiya; Tambuyog Development Center; Tanggol Kalikasan; Turtle Conservation Society of the Philippines