Environmental group Tanggol Kalikasan called on the Philippine Congress for the immediate passage of the amendments to Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001.
“It will be a worthwhile legacy that will not only protect our wildlife resources, but also the lives and livelihoods of generations of Filipinos,” said Ma. Ronely Bisquera-Sheen, executive director of the group.
She said it is high-time to strengthen the 20-year-old law to address the increasingly sophisticated and organized illegal wildlife trade operations in the country.
“Crime syndicates are exploiting legal loopholes, low fines and penalties, digital technology, and limited enforcement capacity,” said Bisquera-Sheen in a statement on November 4.
“Our law must keep up with the changing landscape of wildlife crimes and enforcement,” she said.
She said penalties for violation of the current law do not correspond to the gravity of offenses, failing to serve as a deterrent.
Most of the sentences under the law are below six years imprisonment, with first-time offenders usually applying for probation to skip detention and paying fines.
In 2019, foreign nationals were caught with 1.7 million pesos worth of dried seahorses, considered endangered species, but the offenders ended up paying a measly fine of 15,000 pesos or about US$300.
Under a pending bill in Congress, penalties for trading, possession, and transport of wildlife can be as high as 8 years of imprisonment and/or fines of up to 1 million pesos while penalties for killing or destroying wildlife can reach up to 12 years imprisonment and/or fines of up to 2 million pesos.
Wildlife trafficking shall also be treated as a distinct and separate offense if the violation involves more than one species, according to the proposed measure.
If the bills are passed into law, the offender shall also pay the wildlife economic value, or the amount proven to have been lost as a result of the crime.
Citing the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Tanggol Kalikasan estimated the value of illegal wildlife trade in the country at 50 billion pesos or about US$1 billion yearly, including the market value of wildlife and its resources, their ecological role and value, damage to habitats, and loss in potential ecotourism revenues.
The group said there is also a need for additional financial and technical assistance to the more than 20 Wildlife Rescue Centers nationwide.
The Philippines, among the world’s most mega-diverse countries, has become an important source, transit, and destination point for illegal wildlife trade, which is now the fourth largest illicit trade worldwide behind illegal drugs, arms, and human trafficking.