Cebu ‘ideal for coral smuggling’

CEBU’s access to an international airport and rich marine resources makes it an ideal place for coral smugglers, said Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia. “The temptation is there and the accessibility is also there,” said Garcia. She said she wants to remove the economic benefits of the illegal trade and to tighten security of marine resources. The law’s small penalty imposed against offenders is another come-on to coral poachers, another local chief executive said. With the recent confiscation of P15 million worth of black corals that triggered a Senate investigation, Sen. Miguel Zubiri is proposing to ban the export of shells and shell craft. Shell craft business owners are protesting Zubiri’s proposal. “I am supporting that, even if some sectors may not be happy,” Garcia said of Zubiri’s plan. Garcia’s reaction was made amid reports that Cebu is now becoming the trans-shipment point of rare corals, taken from Visayas and Mindanao seas and being smuggled out of the country. Garcia also welcomed the move to store recently seized corals at the Capitol-owned former Department of Agriculture building along M. Velez St. in Barangay Guadalupe, while the case is being investigated. She worries that the corals might be stolen while in storage. “Gitangtang na sa dagat, tangtangon na sab diri (They’ve been stolen from the sea, and they may be stolen again while in custody),” she said. Last May 19, authorities seized P15 million worth of black, deep sea, tree-like corals placed inside 168 sacks. The cargo was placed inside a 10-footer van aboard MV Lorcon Voyage 20 at the Cebu City port. Fictitious The black sea fan corals were consigned to “Cebu Junkshop,” which was later found to be a fictitious name. Also last May, two container vans were seized in Manila with Exequiel Navarro listed as the consignee. The cargo was declared ”raw rubber.” But Customs found 163 stuffed hawk bills 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 gathered, collected, traded or transported. This prompted the Senate to call Navarro last June 6 for an investigation. “It’s lucrative and it sells. This is a come-on to those who destroy marine resources,” Garcia said. Last June 8, law enforcement agencies seized P1.8 million worth of corals for export inside a warehouse in Mandaue city. Zubiri’s export ban is expected to cut the lucrative benefits of the shell craft industry. Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 11, 2011.