Cebu, Tawi unites in battle vs. illegal trading of marine species

The recent historic meeting of Governor Hilario Davide III and Tawi-Tawi Governor Nurbert Sahali produced a partnership against illegal gathering and trading of marine species.

Sahali, along with some of the province’s representatives, met with Davide last Wednesday to discuss marine life issues of the two provinces.

With Cebu as the center of shells and coral trading and Tawi-Tawi as the home of these rare marine species, the two provinces agreed to work together against illegal transshipment of these species.

Davide pointed out that in order to combat these issues, the provinces of Cebu and Tawi-Tawi , in collaboration with the national law enforcement agencies and local government units must work in unity.

“Magtinabangay ta (Let us work together), especially in protecting our seas and marine life,” said Davide during an interview.

Sahali came to meet Davide and delivered  information about the illegal transshipment of corals, shells and sometimes turtles from Tawi-Tawi to Zamboanga and then to Cebu Province.

Another concern raised was about blasting caps that are believed to be a product from Talisay City and shipped to Tawi-Tawi to be used in killing many kinds of fishes.

“The sea is very important to us; our living comes from the sea.  Please let us sit down and talk; we have so much to offer but we need people for our linkages,”Sahali said.

According to Nur Harun, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Bureau of Fisheries consultant, corals and precious shells appeared to be mined from Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. He also added that the items appeared to be classified intricately with codes on it.

This shows that the people who are doing this kind of business are big-time businessmen who can hire professionals capable of coding and decoding scientific terms.

Dealers bring the corals and shells to Zamboanga where they are packed and cleaned then shipped to warehouses in Cebu as raw materials for shell craft, furniture and other end products. From Cebu they are transported to international destinations or transshipped to Manila for international forwarding.

The ARMM Bureau of Fisheries consultant also said that Cebu remains as a portal and warehouse of the smuggled raw shells and corals up until today.

The TawI-Tawi delegates also came for a study tour aimed at adapting the Cebu’s initiatives in marine wildlife protection. They visited the municipalities of Argao, Oslob and Dalaguete to learn the province’s initiatives  on preserving and protecting the seas.

The delegation from Tawi-Tawi also attended the first Cebu Provincial Anti-Illegal Fishing Task Force (CPAIFTF) stakeholders’ meeting after its re-organization through the Executive Order 3 series of 2015 last March 25.

They were invited to join the meeting for them to adapt and observe the organization’s efforts to address environmental concerns.

Sahali said that they are grateful for the hospitality and willingness of Cebu to help them in their cause.

“Although it is a big challenge for us in terms of communication since our province is composed of island municipalities and islets, the province of Cebu, the line agencies and private partnerships assured us of their help. We are positive about this,” Sahali added.

Representatives from the private sectors, such as the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry and SMART Telecommunications  were also  present  during the meeting to share some alternative livelihood activities and to provide future  linkages in the business aspect for Tawi-Tawi.

Also, representatives from Philippine Navy, Cebu Provincial Police, Police Regional Maritime Office, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-7, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Provincial Environment and Natural Resouces Office, Provincial Department of Agriculture, and Provincial Veterinarians Office were present during the stakeholder’s meeting.

The CPAIFTF’s next meeting is set in June. Cris Lani Delos Reyes and Mary Ann Tapayan (CIT-U Intern)