ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanews/05 June) – An estimated 30 to 40 tons of corals and shells which are believed to be part of the smuggled marine products intercepted at a Manila port early last month were recovered Saturday night by authorities here.
Benny Yu, the owner of the warehouse rented by the alleged smuggler of the marine products, allowed the authorities “in good faith” to inspect the warehouse compound at Sitio Pasay, Barangay San Roque, this city.
Yu’s legal counsel Quirino Esguerra, Jr. said his client made the decision after one of his trusted workers confided to him that there were movements of cargo from the rented warehouse to a vacant lot at the back of the mini-motorpool at the compound.
Senior Supt. Mario Rariza, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-9 (CIDG-9) coordinated with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) after Esguerra reported his client’s decision to have the warehouse compound inspected.
Rariza accompanied BFAR National Director Asis Perez, BFAR Regional Director Ahadulla Sajili, DENR Protected Area Wildlife Department (PAWD) National Director Theresa Lim during the inspection.
“It is very difficult to count,” Perez said when asked for an initial estimate of the corals and shells that were packed in sacks and boxes but he said these could fill in three 20-footer container vans, he said. The smuggled items intercepted in Manila last month were in two container vans.
The sacks and boxes contain black and red corals, trumpet and Helmet shells and others, which Perez believes were being prepared for shipment.
A piece of black coral is valued at $176 dollars in the international market while the red coral commands a higher price because of its medicinal value, he said.
Perez said they have yet to conduct an inventory to determine the exact volume and the value of the corals and shells at the warehouse compound.
Edgar Fernandez, Yu’s trusted worker, said he came to know about the movements of cargo when Li tapped him last Wednesday to look for workers “to transfer the cargo” from the rented warehouse to the vacant lot.
Fernandez said about 14 workers transferred the “cargo” and were paid P8,000 for the job.
“They started working Wednesday night and finished at around 3 a.m. Thursday,” Fernandez added. He said the workers asked for additional payment and were given P2,000.
“They dumped these without the knowledge of my client,” Esguerra said.
Esguerra said the warehouse is being rented by Li and Lim Trading owned by Olivia Li, who is in the business of live marine products.
Li was among three persons named as respondents in criminal cases filed by the Bureau of Customs (BoC) last Friday for violating the Fisheries Code of the Philippines (RA 8550) and the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2011 prohibiting the gathering and transporting or sale of endangered species.
The Bureau of Customs seized earlier last month two container vans loaded with 163 stuffed Hawksbills and Green turtles; 21,169 pieces of black corals; 7,340 pieces of Trumpet and Helmet shells and 196 kilograms of sea whips, all threatened species that cannot be legally gathered, collected, traded or transported.
The content of the two container vans were declared as raw rubber. The shipment was intercepted at the Eva Macapagal Domestic Terminal, Pier 15, at the South Harbor in Manila on May 1. It was on board Super Ferry 5 from Cotabato.
The other respondents of the cases aside from Li, are Exequiel Navarro who was listed in the shipment’s manifest as the consignee of the marine products and Kim Atillano, owner of the Zamboanga-based JKA Transport System, the cargo forwarding company.
Esguerra said his client was not aware when the corals and shells were brought to the rented warehouse.
Fernandez said not one Yu’s employees knew what was in the rented warehouse until last week.
“The door was always covered whenever they were working inside. We cannot also go in and see what is going on since there are two people watching at the door,” Fernandez said.
Yu’s business is hardware, mall and warehouse.
On May 25, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje ordered DENR lawyers to start summary proceedings against personalities behind the smuggle try of the illegal shipment.
Paje condemned the poachers and their financiers “who have practically robbed the present and future generations of Filipinos” the benefits that would have come from these marine species in unquantifiable terms and should face the full extent of the law in whatever way necessary.”
Navarro has been charged with violation of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 which bans gathering, owning, selling or exporting of ordinary precious and semiprecious corals and provides a prison term of six months to two years, and a fine of up to half a million pesos.
Paje ordered DENR lawyers to find out if Navarro could be charged for violating the country’s Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (Republic Act 9147) which states that any person who kills and destroys a critically endangered species may face an imprisonment of a maximum of 12 years and/or fine of as much as P1 million.
In a privilege speech on May 30, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the Environment Committee, called the smuggling a “high crime.”
He summoned Navarro to a hearing on June 1 but the latter did not show up, claiming his brother was ill.
Zubiri said they have asked Navarro’s counsel to ensure he would be available on Monday, June 6.
DENR officials were earlier told by Gary Williams of the California Academy of Sciences, a world-renowned expert on corals, that the area damaged or destroyed by the illegal harvesting and trade of black corals could reach up to 190.8 square kilometers or about five times the size of Manila City. (MindaNews)