MANILA, Philippines - Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Antonio Oposa Jr. wants experts from China and the United States to join an investigating team that would help the government determine those who are responsible for the destruction of the country’s coral reefs.
During a Senate hearing on Wednesday morning, the environmental lawyer said China and the US should be represented in a proposed technical working group, being the countries eyed as markets for black corals harvested recently.
The investigation comes on the back of reports that Customs officials were able to intercept some P35 million worth of black corals from the coast of Cotabato. This is tantamount to the destruction of an area 5 times the size of Metro Manila.
Oposa said if these countries are found to be coddling such kinds of markets, the Philippines could elevate a case under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It is an international agreement between governments that ensures that international trade of different specimens will not threaten their survival.
The country is a signatory to the convention.
“There would be no takers if there are no markets,” Oposa stressed.
He added the lack of political will has allowed poachers to go scot-free despite laws protecting the country’s wildlife.
“There is the [Act Providing for the Conservation and Protections of Wildlife Resources] that penalizes violators for a minimum of 12 years and a maximum of 20 years in jail,” he said.
Food, not just corals
For his part, World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines Lorenzo Tan said the main issue is about food, which continues to be depleted because of the widespread destruction of the coral reefs.
He cited a Silliman University study issued 10 years ago, which showed the reefs had a potential to produce 350,000 metric tons of fish. With the degradation, however, the production went down to 170,000.
“That was 10 years ago. What about now?” he asked.
He also cited a World Resources Institute study saying that the remaining excellent coral reef is now only the size of the island of Marinduque.
“The solution is not only preservation, but conservation,” he added. He said a realistic timeframe must be set for the attainment of goals.