After Manta Ray Massacre, PCG Vows More Arrests

After Manta Ray Massacre, PCG Vows More Arrests

photo courtesy of the Philippine Coast Guard/FB

Expect more apprehension of offenders who could face a jail term of up to 8 years and pay a fine of up to P3 million.

This was the stern warning issued by Tagbilaran City Coast Guard Station Commander Lieutenant junior Grade Jimmy M. Berbo for those who continue to engage in the illegal trade of endangered and protected species.

The warning was issued as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has filed lawsuits against four Pamilacan Island fishermen and a driver accomplice for possession and transport of an estimated 2,000 kilos of poached and butchered manta rays.

The filing of the legal proceedings happened on the same day a team from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Maritime Police, PCG and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) documented the disposal of the confiscated meat at the BFAR facility in Calape, Bohol.

Charged in violation of Section 102 of Republic Act 8550 as amended by RA 10654 were Angel Pingkian, (36), Virgilio Pingkian (32), Benjamin Nisnisan Jr., (25), Milagros Valeroso (47); all of Pamilacan Island and driver Darwin Salazar (42) of Bunga Mar, Jagna.

Section 102 (b) says it is unlawful to fish, take, catch, gather, sell, purchase, possess, transport, export, forward or ship out aquatic species listed in CITES Appendices II and III.

In their filed complaint to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, PCG seamen Ralph Barajan and Gian Carl Buenaobra attested in their joint affidavit that at about 3:30 PM of February 23, 2017, while they were officially dispatched to conduct foot patrol in Baluarte, Baclayon when they spotted one docked motorized banca loaded with what appears to be manta rays.

Also within the vicinity was a yellow vehicle with plate number 074807 loaded with alleged manta rays.

The coast guard elements immediately arrested the suspects and confiscated the motorized banca MBCA The Original Double D, the yellow vehicle and two manta rays which they brought to PCG Station in Tagbilaran for further investigation, identification and proper disposition.

BFAR-Bohol OIC Provincial Fishery Officer Leo Bongalos, through its aquatic technicians, confirmed and positively identified the confiscated butchered meat as that of the giant manta ray (manta birostris).

BFAR Fishery Resource Officer Pedro Milana Jr., aquatic technicians Epifaio Gultia Jr., and Jetrones Colaste noted the following characteristics in the specimen: Very broad head with long head fins, mouth terminal located at the end of snout tip, cephalic fins not straight and presence of black spots in the left and right column of the gill slits.

Further, BRAF certified that the subject species are classified as rare, threatened and endangered as listed in Appendix II of the Convention of International Treaties on Endangered Species (CITES).

Succeeding investigations by a composite team of the marine police, BFAR and the coast guard also revealed that Valeroso bought the manta rays, each estimated to weight over 1,000 kilos, for P20,000 each, from an unnamed source in Jagna.

Valeroso then contracted driver Darwin Salazar to haul the meat to Baluarte in Baclayon where a boat was waiting to load the illegal cargo to Pamilacan where it would be sun-dried.

Conservative estimates from converted manta ray hunters said a 1.2 ton meat can produce about 300 kilograms of dried meat, which sells for P800 to P1000 per kilo.

The gills and the internal organs can even fetch much higher cost, the source who asked not to be named admitted.

The office of Provincial Prosecutor Macario Delusa received the case at 6:45 PM Friday, while the PCG has turned over the custody of the accused to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

When found to be administrative guilty, the accused could get a fine equivalent to three (3) times the value of the species or Three hundred thousand pesos (P300,000.00) to Three million pesos (P3,000,000.00), whichever is higher.

This also includes the forfeiture of the species, according to Section 2 of RA 10654.

And upon conviction by a court of law, the offenders can be imprisoned for terms ranging from 5 to 8 years and a fine equivalent to twice the administrative fine and forfeiture of the species.

The arrest stirred a mixed trail of emotions: praises and accolades as well as snide comments.

Highest of fives, it has been a problem for long, and I only saw this apprehension, hails Paul Albert.

Thomas Boetsch says, “Big thank you to our coast guard who enforce finally the law!!! Bring [this] poachers to justice they destroy the future of coming generations! A manta ray alive is worth of ten thousands of dollars in the tourism industry and can generate big incomes to locals like the whale sharks in [Osob] Oslob.”

But amidst the growing number of “pats on the back” for PCG, some netizens beg out, like somebody who asked “Can we give them last chance? And to promise not to do it again?”

The same netster continued, “But I hope we can give them a last chance, arguing that when young, parents give chance for one to change.”

She argued further, the LGU can give them livelihood projects that can sustain their community so they stop poaching manta rays.”

“Absolutely my answer is NO… no last chance,” PCG JG Berbo said. (Rey Anthony Chiu/PIA)

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