Philippines: $10 Million Worth of Illegal Ivory Destroyed

On Friday, June 21, the Filipino government destroyed $10 million worth of confiscated elephant tusks. LinkAsia's Marianna Ilagan looks at how this will impact the ivory trade, and how Filipinos are reacting to the government's decision.

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  1. Five tons of "blood ivory" were crushed by steamrollers on June 21st at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center (NAPWC) in Quezon City. According to National Geographic, the Philippines is "the world's first ivory-consuming nation" to destroy a sizeable amount of their ivory stock. The manner in which they first aimed to do this, though, became a topic of debate.
  2. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initially intended to use kerosene to burn the tusks "to show to the whole world that the Philippines will not tolerate illegal wildlife trade," as stated by DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. However, outcries from environmental advocacy groups, such as the Ecowaste Coalition, persuaded the DENR to forego the "ceremonial burning" and crush the ivory instead. They recommended that what remained of the tusks afterward should be pulverized then used as compost.
  3. Reactions to the destruction of the ivory have been mixed. Those who opposed the plan argued that destroying the evidence of the illegal ivory trade is a missed opportunity to educate future generations. On the Inquirer Global Nation Website, one user suggested an alternative to the DENR's plan of action. "Put [the tusks] in a museum. The day will come that future generation (sic) will only appreciate those tusks in museums. These will remind us of man's folly." Another proposed a more pragmatic solution, saying, "Why not sell it to the highest bidder and donate the proceeds to charity? I know these ivory is (sic) illegal...but let's face it; these animals are already dead."
  4. On the other hand, there were those who were in full favor of destroying the ivory. They want to keep the ivory from ending back up on the blackmarket. "This is blood money," said disquskraft31, who emphasized, "Despite the big amount...they are right to burn it." And some are calling for more widespread action. Commenter DGuardian asked: "Why are only five tons being burned? There are up to 13.1 tons according to news reports. What's going to happen to the remaining 8.1 tons? They'll just be stolen from wherever they're being kept." The reader's concern is far from unprompted. In 2006, the Filipino wildlife department found that their storage room had been raided, with numerous elephant tusks replaced by cheap plastic replicas.
  5. The Filipino ivory industry has been a thriving market, and therefore a serious issue, for decades now. In 1997, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) -- of which the Philippines has been a signatory since 1989 -- identified the country as one of the top nine nations most involved in the blood ivory trade.
  6. Other nations that serve as major transit points for illegal ivory include Malaysia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. The bulk of the tusks come from African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, where illegal poaching is so rampant that the African elephant has been declared an endangered species.
  7. Before they were seized, most of the tusks were likely to be shipped to China and Thailand, where ivory is prized for making statues, billiard balls, piano keys, jewelry and other luxury items.
  8. It is also possible that some ivory may have remained in the Philippines, since religious icons from ivory tend to be highly valued by the predominantly Catholic nation. The Filipino Catholic Church itself was embroiled in a scandal in September 2012, when a priest was discovered to have been involved in collecting and smuggling ivory
  9. What makes it so easy for these criminal activities to flourish in the Philippines? The quick answer is the extensive corruption within the government, frequently named as one of the most corrupt in Asia. This reputation for political dishonesty applies to practically every government employee, from senators and congressmen to policemen and customs officials. It is an open secret that the Bureau of Customs has a habit of overlooking outlawed substances and products, as well as neglecting to charge payments for permits, costing the country more than $700 million in lost revenue each year.
  10. The few items that do get confiscated tend to mysteriously disappear, such as the aforementioned tusks kept in storage. In 2008, the DENR admitted that the Philippines loses more than $200,000 every year due to illegal wildlife trade. Wildlife and wildlife products commonly imported and exported include talking mynah birds, stuffed specimen, illicitly mined corals, and, of course, ivory.
  11. Last March, CITES issued the country a warning: If the Philippines does not take more concrete steps to eradicate the unauthorized industry, trade sanctions may be implemented that would prevent the country from engaging in even legal wildlife trade with other nations. The Filipino government responded by coming up with a National Ivory Action Plan, submitted to CITES last month with hopes for full implementation before July 2014.
  12. Ivory and other wildlife trade is the third-largest illegal industry in the world, right behind prohibited drugs and weapons. The current value for ivory on the black market is approximately $1,000 per pound -- more than double the price in 2007. The Filipino government hopes that sending this message will put the country on the path towards eradicating the ivory trade. 
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