Tighten enforcement of environmental laws

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    ‘As in other shenanigans, government officials were reported as involved in this latest violation of environmental laws…’

    PICTURES in newspapers have a way of jolting the senses of the public when it comes to crime (the misencounter among two groups of anti-drugs law enforcers, the PDEA and the Quezon City police, resulting in 4 deaths of lawmen and an informant) and environment degradation (tons of “taklobo” or giant clams seized by authorities in Palawan).

    In the coastal town of Roxas, Palawan, a joint team of the Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Marines uncovered a rather ambitious smuggling and illicit trade in giant clams. They discovered 324 pieces of the giant clam shells, with a combined weight of 80 tons and an estimated worth of around P160 million, in the black market. The hoard, one of the biggest in recent memory, was hidden in a pit along the beach in Barangay 6, Johnson island, and covered with sand.

    The fishermen and residents of this fishing village, particularly those involved in hiding and trafficking these contraband, do not realize the risk of what they did. Coast Guard officials said harvesting endangered giant clams is prohibited under the law, and that violators may be charged and if found guilty, jailed for three years and fined P3 million. More than these legal sanctions, the perpetrators have to be reminded that giant clams and other endangered species have an important role to play in the hierarchy of life in the oceans, and that cutting them off from the environment is detrimental to the overall functioning of the marine ecosystem.

    As in other shenanigans, government officials were reported as involved in this latest violation of environmental laws, as a barangay chairman will be charged for poaching for supervising the illegal collection of the giant shells, the authorities said.

    Experts said it should take the village residents some six months to one year to amass this biggest haul of “taklobo,” collecting them in a large pit on the beach. It is just to the credit of the Coast Guard and the military (not the Philippine National Police, which should be in the forefront of enforcement of environmental laws) that this illegal operation was uncovered.

    It is important to remind the people, especially the residents of Palawan which is one of the last frontiers of biodiversity in the country, that the giant clam, known also as Tridacna gigas, is the largest bivalve mollusk in the world. It was classified in 1996 as a vulnerable species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red list. The clams provide nutritious and tasty meat while the shells are made into jewelry, table lamps, religious icons, wash basins in restaurants, and other exotic products.

    Palawan and other far-flung provinces near the sea both in the eastern and western coasts of the Philippines should strengthen their conservation measures if we are to leave something for the next generation.