Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has welcomed the filing of two Senate bills that would bolster the current environmental laws on anti-illegal wildlife trade.

"We at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) give our full support to the initiatives of the legislators who are seeking to reinforce and recalibrate the existing Wildlife Act, particularly against wildlife traffickers who wreak havoc to our biodiversity that causes the imbalance in our ecosystems, impacting not only our livelihood but our economy in general," Cimatu said.

The DENR chief made this statement following the announcement of Senators Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel Zubiri in filing Senate Bill (SB) 2078 and SB 2079.

He pointed out that “the Senate bills came at the most opportune time amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when many notorious and organized traffickers are taking advantage of the situation by resorting to online markets, and changing traffic routes which prove to be more challenging to our law enforcers.”

"With this, we are giving the culprits a stern warning that we are vigilant on their criminal schemes, and that we are very keen in our enforcement operations. We in the Department cannot tolerate any of their criminal acts," Cimatu said.

SB 2078, filed by Villar, aims to strengthen the wildlife conservation and protection mechanism in the Philippines, amending Republic Act (RA) 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001.

Meanwhile, SB 2079 filed by Zubiri is a supporting bill to RA 9147, providing for a revised Act, appropriating funds therefor and for other purposes.

SB 2078 will provide timely or relevant amendments to RA 9147, according to Villar.

One of the proposed amendments cited in SB 2078 is the recognition of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao government over wildlife species in their territory.

It also proposes "wildlife trafficking" and "wildlife laundering" as crimes, which are not included in and not made punishable under the present law. This also includes "organized syndicated crime" as a means of committing wildlife offenses.

The bill also seeks to increase fines and jail time "to serve as a deterrent for the commission of wildlife crimes."

SB 2079, on the other hand, is the appropriation of the funds for implementing SB 2078 once it becomes a law.

It also acknowledged that after almost 20 years of implementation, RA 9147 is “ripe for further strengthening and improvement.”

Both Bills hope to “establish a more stringent legal framework, improve enforcement mechanisms, and strengthen inter-agency cooperation against illegal wildlife trade, among others.”

Villar is the current chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, while Zubiri is the principal author of RA 9147.

DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau OIC and Assistant Director Amelita Ortiz said the agency is delighted with the move by the two senators.

"The support we get from our distinguished lawmakers in filing the bills will pave the way to our aspiration to make wildlife trafficking a serious crime with a penalty up to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment," Ortiz said.

"Once these bills are signed into law, we will be assured that wildlife resources will be protected through the enforcement of a stronger law which aims to deter individuals from making the Philippines, a source, destination and transit point of these trafficked wildlife, including the consumer," she said. ###