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Privilege Speech by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri

Privilege Speech delivered by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri at the Philippine Senate on February 27, 2008 in the presence of members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, His Excellency, Ambassador David Pine of New Zealand, PAWB OIC Director Josie de Leon and Dr. Steven Toledo

Members of the Wild Bird Club in attendance were Leah Cerdena, Arne Jensen, Benedict de Laender, Alex Loinaz, Benedict Lu, Michael Lu, Leni Sutcliffe, Mark Villa

Senate of the Philippines
Privilege Speech
By Sen. Juan Miguel F. Zubiri
27 February 2008
A Tale of Two Hunters

Mr. President, on a number of occasions I rise on this August Chamber, in defense of the environment and to expose violations of our environmental laws. Today is no different from those instances. I will not cease to stand on this floor as long as our environmental laws continue to be flagrantly violated. I ask our distinguished colleagues to bear with me on this crusade, if only to call everyone's attention, especially the public and the executive branch, which is supposed to zealously implement our laws. And, we too in the legislative can do something, to amend the law, if necessary, or in the exercise of our oversight powers, to look into the culpability or neglect of our law enforcers and executive officials. This humble representation is not only passionate about environmental advocacy, it is a way of life for me.

Bird Massacre

On December 13, 2007 an article in Philippine Daily Inquirer by columnist Juan Mercado tackled the "slaughter of the birds" in several towns in Negros Occidental purportedly by the members of a loose organization called Bacolod Air Rifle Hunting Club. The grisly photos of shot birds displayed on the internet by some members of the Bacolod Air Rifle Hunting Club led to the accidental discovery of this illegal activity by Mr. Josef Sagemuller while surfing the internet in search of information on birds in the Philippines. He then alerted the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines represented by Mr. Michael Lu and his members present at the gallery today, together with Ambassador David Pine of New Zealand, and some members of the diplomatic corps, who share a passion for conservation. The discovery sparked the drive for 10,000 signatures by the Club to curb this slaughter and call the attention of authorities. The photos displayed hundreds of slaughtered doves, mallards, whistling ducks, snipes and other endemic and endangered species, according to Mr. Lu. In an attempt to cover up their illegal deeds, after the photos posted in their website caught the attention of environmentalists, the Bacolod Air Rifle Hunting Club shut down their website.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri delivering his priviledge speech on hunting and poaching
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri delivering his
priviledge speech on hunting and poaching

What is worse is the blatant denial of some of its members that it ever happened, well, a picture speaks a thousand words! And at this point, distinguished colleagues, let me show you some of these gruesome photos of massacred birds which were downloaded before the website was pulled-out. (Play slides.)

So that the authorities would have something to start their investigation with, let me name their group: some members of the Bacolod Air Rifle Club and some members of the Philippine National Shooting Team. A certain Mr. Gino Castandielo was the one who posted the photos in the internet, one of which shows Ms. Tet Lara, Mike and Jade De Guzman of the Philippine National Shooting Team who had posted their own lame excuse for the compromising photos.

These people's names cropped up in their own website, just before they shut it down. Others were even interviewed and admitted to this illegal activity but pleaded that they were not aware of RA 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. Have they not heard of the legal maxim "ignorance of the law excuses no one?"

What frustrates me the most Mr. President is the inaction of our DENR officials at this brazen violation of our wildlife laws. I will get to that later on.

Mindoro Safari

In another hunting expedition, this fellow from New York by the name of Jay T. Carlson is enticing foreign tourists for an exciting and different hunting activity in Mindoro. He is the outfitter for the hunting activities and advertises his hunting expedition in the internet as the Mindoro Safari.

According to reports posted in the website:, The Mindoro Safari is a 12 to 14-day itinerary with 10 hunting days in the field and for a fee of US$10,500. to US$12,500. The hunt is done totally on foot in the thick jungle of Mt. Halcon in Mindoro with the help of the Mangyans. Mr. Carlson started this hunting expedition in 2002 and has pioneered some fascinating hunts for Asian water buffalo and Philippine sambar deer. They also take wild boar and bearded warty pig as hunt trophies. "Clients may take a second buffalo for an additional US$1,200. A fit client should expect to collect two primary species with additional species collected as time allows. Most clients shoot three animals. Hides are prepared for shipment/dip and pack. All paperwork is processed for export," says the report published in April 2005.

Mr. Carlson's first client in 2002 was Hunting Report Honor Roll subscriber Truman Clem, who took an Asiatic water buffalo. According to Mr. Clem, "the hunts are best marketed to the Safari Club International (SCI) hunter/collector who is looking for unique species found nowhere else."

Mr. President, what they romantically call as Asiatic water buffalo is nothing but our hardworking domesticated carabao, the poor animal was probably standing by itself or even tied to the ground when it was killed. It may not fall under the CITES list of endangered species but nevertheless, it would violate RA 8485, The Animal Welfare's Act, a law against cruelty to animals.

And if the November 2007 report posted in their website is to be believed, it is still ongoing with a possibility to include in the hunt the 12 to 18 foot crocodiles that have been seen in their hunting grounds.

These crocodiles Mr. President are one of the most endangered fresh water crocodiles in the planet. They are known as Crocodilus Mindorensis and are numbered only in the hundreds left in the wild. If these reports are true, then Mr. President, this fellow should be prosecuted, fined and should serve his sentence in our jails as stipulated in Section 28 of RA 9147. After which, he should be deported as a menace to the environment.

I would like to also ask our Bureau of Immigration to look into Mr. Carlson's immigration status as we have reports that he has overstayed his tourist visa.

Wildlife roles in our ecosystems

Birds and wildlife have important roles to play in the chain of life. Decimating their populations would threaten the viability of all ecosystems. Birds play a key role for the Philippine environment. They eat fruits and disperse the seeds over wide parts of land that are crucial in revitalizing our forests. Some nectar-feeders such as the olive-backed sunbird are important pollinators. Seabirds improve the ecology of small islands by producing large amounts of guano which enriches the island's soil, allowing less adaptable plants to root.

More than 200 Philippine birds, out of 600 resident and migratory species, are included in the World Conservation Union's red list of critically-endangered species. Among them are the Philippine cockatoo, the Negros fruit-dove and the Philippine eagle, considered as the world's largest eagle.

The most unique animal feature of Mindoro must be the tamaraw (Bubalus Mindorensis), or dwarf water buffalo. The tamaraws are endemic to Mindoro. There were around 10,000 tamaraws in Mindoro in the 1900's. By the 1960's only about 300 had been counted in the wild making it rarer than the black rhinoceros of Africa, China's panda and the tiger. It was listed as critically-endangered in 1970. The latest official count placed their numbers to 263. The World Conservation Union cites habitat loss from cattle ranching and farming, hunting and diseases as the major threats to the tamaraw's survival.

Another threat to biodiversity conservation Mr. President, are the continuous poaching activities for the pet trade. It still saddens me to find out from my friends that they still see the rare Philippine Cockatoo or Katala or even Mouse Deer being sold at stalls in Cartimar, Arranque Market and other provincial markets were these species are found. Once again, in clear violation of our laws.

Mr. President, I strongly condemn these illegal hunting and poaching activities which could lead to the extinction of many birds and mammal species which are endemic to the Philippines.

I would like to remind these violators of the provisions of RA 9147 --- Wildlife Conservation Act, which I had the honor to author in the 11th Congress together with the distinguished members of this Chamber, particularly:

Section 27 of Chapter IV on Illegal Acts:

a. killing and destroying wildlife species;
f. collecting, hunting or possessing wildlife, their by-products and derivatives;

Section 28 of Chapter V on Fines and Penalties:

a. imprisonment of a minimum of six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) yeard and/or a fine of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000) to One Million Pesos (P1,000,000), if inflicted or undertaken against species listed as critical.

b. imprisonment of four years (4) and one (1) day to six (6) years and/or a fine of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000) to Five Hundred ThousandPesos (P500,000), if inflicted or undertaken against endangered species

I ask our Committee on Environment to investigate this issue and determine the gross negligence and responsibility of our environment officials, particularly the Regional Directors of these areas and the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau Personnel. Why do they allow these illegal and immoral activities to continue? When will they muster the political will to prosecute these people?

I suggest Mr. President that we, together with the environmental groups file cases with the Green Ombudsman Task Force to look at cases involving environment officials who commit gross negligence of their duties and mandates.

I also ask the Philippine Sports Commission, if the members of the Philippine National Shooting Team mentioned in this privilege speech are still part of the present National Shooting Team to suspend their financial and logistical support to the Philippine National Shooting Team until an investigation is conducted and those responsible have been identified. Even before they could bring honor to the country in international competitions, they already brought disgrace to our people and to the entire sports community by their illegal hunting activities.

Mr. President, this is not just about conservation. It's about biodiversity, natural heritage, legacy and ecological balance. Instead of putting out life, these poachers should modify their motivations to that of creating life. Instead of seeking gun permits, why not apply for breeding permits and set up wildlife breeding farms for conservation, trade and/or scientific purposes.

WBCP members group photo with Senators Nene Pimentel and Senator Migz Zubiri
WBCP members group photo with Senators
Nene Pimentel and Senator Migz Zubiri

Mr. President, we must put a stop to these illegal hunting activities that threaten the survival of species which are endemic to the country. We must seriously look into this issue and prosecute those who would be found violating our laws.

In Psalm Chapter 104, Verse 24: "How many are your works Oh Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your beautiful creatures."

And here they are, ladies and gentlemen, destroying God's beautiful creation.

Thank you.