Charges filed vs. GenSan traders who collected 2,000 geckos

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/1 Dec) – Police and environment personnel filed charges Thursday for violation of the wildlife resources conservation and protection law against four leaders of a local trading group that had been tagged as behind the illegal collection and trading of around 2,000 geckos that were recovered in a warehouse here last Tuesday.

Senior Supt. Albert Ignatius Ferro, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG)-Region 12 chief, identified the suspects as Mercelyn Cayetano, Mario Legaspi, Wesley Saliban and a certain Engr. Mendoza, who were allegedly officers of the Mindanao Development Ventures and Trade Corporation.

The four were among the 14 persons who were arrested by CIDG-12 operatives and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) personnel following a raid at a compound in Barangay Lagao here where the illegally-collected geckos were kept by the group, he said.

The official said the suspects, who were detained at the CIDG-12 headquarters in Camp Fermin Lira here, were formally charged with violation of Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act following the inquest proceedings at a local court here.

“Our investigation is still ongoing and we’re currently looking at the possible involvement of the suspects in other illegal activities,” Ferro said.

He noted that they initially found two standing arrest warrants for estafa against Cayetano, who was listed as president of the Mindanao Development Ventures and Trade Corporation.

Ferro said the company, which was not listed in the official online registry of the Securities and Exchange Commission, had been buying geckos at about P2,000 to P5,000 each depending on their sizes.

He said they also found an endangered Iguana from the group’s possession during the raid.

But Cayetano, who admitted to have negotiated for the buying of the geckos, claimed they were collecting the reptiles for an organic farming project of a supposed foundation attached to their company.

“We have poor members who utilize these geckos for organic farming. This is not for sale,” she told reporters without further elaborating.

Zosimo Soriano, protected areas head of the DENR’s Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) for Sarangani and General Santos area, said their records showed that the group has not been issued with any permit to collect and buy the geckos.

“The collection of these animals is allowed but the owners should secure first a collector’s permit,” he said.

The DENR’s Protected Areas Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) earlier warned residents against the collection and trading of geckos, which were reportedly sought by foreign collectors for medical research.

The reptile was reportedly being tested as possible cure for cancer and even the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV).

Buyers reportedly based in several Southeast Asian countries have been openly posting online calls for the trading of geckos, with buying price offers ranging from P50,000 to P1 million depending on the size of the reptile.

Meantime, Soriano said that based on their assessment, the geckos that were seized from Cayetano’s group were not handled properly.

He said around 10 percent of the seized geckos were already dead since the group had kept them in overcrowded cages.

On Wednesday, CIDG-12 and CENRO personnel released the recovered animals at a portion of the famed Seven Falls in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, which is part of the Allah Valley Protected Watershed.

“We decided to immediately release the geckos to the area because with their condition, we don’t think they would last another day in the cages,” he said. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)