Customs sues ‘rapists of the ocean’

MANILA—The Bureau of Customs has filed a complaint against suspected “rapists of the ocean” following the seizure of some P35 million worth of black corals and other endangered marine species.

The complaint was filed before the Department of Justice against the owner, consignee, shippers and haulers of the smuggled wildlife species, said Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez.

Charged were Exequiel D. Navarro, listed as the consignee of the illegally-gatheredmarine resources; Olivia Lim Li, proprietor of the Zamboanga-based Li and Lim Trading who was implicated by Navarro as the real shipper of the confiscated corals and stuffed sea turtles;

Kim L. Atillano, owner of the Zamboanga-based JKA Transport System which was the cargo forwarding company tapped by the shipper; Ireneo Penuliar and other still unidentified employees of the Manila branch of the JKA Transport System; and, officers/owners of Vicky’s Trucking, the company which transported the misdeclared cargo from the shipper’s warehouse to the Port of Zamboanga.

They were accused of violating Section 91 of the Republic Act 8550, otherwise known as the Fisheries Code of the Philippines which bans coral exploitation and exportation. They were also charged with violating Fisheries Administrative Order 158 which prohibits the gathering, taking, collecting, transporting, or possession for sale of endangered species of mollusks; and, Section 27 of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001.

An investigation made by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources showed that two seized containers were loaded with 163 stuffed hawkbills 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, nor transported.

Alvarez, who described the smugglers as “rapists of the ocean”, said the filing of the cases against the suspected wildlife thieves has the support of the government’s frontline regulatory agencies in charge of protecting and conserving precious natural resources and biodiversity like the Department of Agriculture’s BFAR, and the Department of Environment’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.

Navarro, who had denied knowledge of the illegal activity of the Li and Lim Trading, said his transport company was just hired to handle the cargo shipment which Li and Lim Trading had misdeclared as raw rubber.

Navarro further claimed in his counter-affidavit that JKA Transport System allowed Li and Lim Trading to load its cargo in the container vans without any supervision since the latter was a regular customer with no derogatory record.

Suansing said the JKA Transport’s deal with Li and Lim Trading included the facilitation of the contraband’ shipment to a foreign destination.

Reports say Li and Lim’s core business involves export of marine products to Taiwan.

Suansing said that Vicky’s Trucking was included in the charge sheet because the transport of wildlife is one of the illegal acts enumerated in Section 27 of the country’s Wildlife Act.

Alvarez, meanwhile, lauded the agency’s Enforcement Group for its latest pro-environment accomplishment.

He said their seizure of illegally-harvested marine species has brought to the public’s eye the devastation being caused on the marine ecosystem by the illegal harvesters of endangered and threatened marine life and the greediness of those who finance their search-and-destroy operation.

Alvarez said he hopes their efforts would help galvanize the nation’s political will to make the protection and conservation of the country’s natural resources a national priority.

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