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18 April 2024, 02:40 AM

Customs Foils P20 Million Coral Smuggling

April 11, 2011

Some P20 million worth of black corals, a protected species that cannot be legally harvested, were seized today on orders of Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez.

The contraband, concealed in two twenty-footer container vans at the Eva Macapagal Domestic Terminal, were misdeclared by a certain Exequiel Navarro as “rubber”.

The illegal shipment, disclosed Alvarez, came from Cotabato in Mindanao, a province well-known for the wealth, beauty and diversity of its marine resources.

Customs Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement Horacio P. Suansing said a joint inspection conducted by customs personnel and experts from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) revealed that the shipment contained “sea fans”, a species of hard, stony corals belonging to the order “Antipatharia” or black coral.

There is a global prohibition for the collection and harvesting of black coral as it is listed in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Speciesof Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as threatened and endangered.

“The illegal trade in black corals,” said Alvarez, “is being fueled by the demand of the multi-billion dollar marine ornamental industry for exotic decorative species and the increasing popularity of coral-accented jewelries and fashion accessories.”

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), coral reefs are the most life-producing of all ecosystems on earth, harboring 25% of all marine species that include fish and invertebrates. They deliver ecosystem services to fisheries, food security, employment, tourism, pharmaceutical research and coastline protection. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that the economic cost over a 25 year period of destroying one kilometer of coral reef is somewhere between $137,000 and $1,200,000.

Alvarez warns smugglers that under his watch, the Bureau of Customs would help enforce Philippine laws, initiatives and international agreements for the protection of corals and other reef organisms.

Section 91 of Republic Act 8550, better known as the Fisheries Code of 1998 prohibits any person or corporation to gather, possess, sell or export ordinary, precious and semi-precious corals whether in raw or in processed form. Penalty for violation ranges from six months to two (2) years and a fine from two thousand pesos (P2,000.00) to twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or both at the discretion of the court and forfeiture of the subject corals, including the vessel and its proper disposition.

In view of their latest accomplishment, Alvarez commended Suansing, Customs Police Director Nestorio Gualberto and Port of Manila District Commander Major Ramon Policarpiowho initiated the apprehension based on reliable information provided by an informant.

The customs chief also called for a thorough investigation of the smuggling attempt to determine the criminal liability of the consignee and the people working with him.

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