The operatives of the newly-formed Environmental Law Enforcement and Protection Service (ELEPS) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), together with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), have confiscated ₱2.9-million worth of agarwood from two illegal traders on June 15.

ELEPS Director Reuel Sorilla said 18 kilograms of agarwood worth ₱2.9 million were seized from Mark Gil Espino and Nathaniel Avelino at a coffee shop parking lot on West Avenue in Quezon City.

"But the real worth of the contraband is placed at ₱29 million, or at least 10 times more than its market value, if we will factor in the environmental services that were lost as a result of the illegal cutting of these threatened trees," Sorilla said.

Also recovered from the suspects were an Asian utility vehicle, cellular phones, and a weighing scale.

He said the DENR-NBI operatives started their case build-up against Espino and Avelino as early as November 2020, following information provided by a concerned citizen to the NBI Agent Habeas Corpus of the Environmental Crime Division.

Sorilla pointed out that determining the sum of all costs from an environmental crime should factor in the lost environmental services "to drive home the point that a standing tree is way far better than an apprehended undocumented tree."

"This is where Secretary Roy A. Cimatu's marching order to ELEPS is anchored. Our paramount objective is one of preemptive defense to deter the commission of environmental crimes by strengthening DENR’s institutional capacity to prevent illegal logging. But if we have to run after the perpetrators, then we will do it," Sorilla said.

The illegal trade of agarwood has resulted in the indiscriminate cutting of Lapnisan and Lanete, which are both included in the national list of threatened Philippine plants per DENR Administrative Order 2007-01, according to Rogelio Demelletes, Jr., DENR senior ecosystems management specialist and ELEPS officer.

"It is very difficult to tell if a tree has produced agarwood, and so this results in the indiscriminate cutting of Lapnisan and Lanete," Demelletes said.

Agarwood is a product of the growth of a type of fungal infection, called Phialophora parasitic, inside the heartwood of Lapnisan and Lanete

Once infected, the trees defend themselves by producing an aromatic resin called aloes, a dark and moist substance that slowly embeds into the heartwood through time, thus creating "agarwood."

Espino and Avelino are currently detained at the NBI detention facility in Manila while awaiting court proceedings for violations of Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources and Protection Act and Presidential Decree 705, otherwise known as the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.

Violators of the law could face a jail term of six to 12 years and a fine ranging between ₱100,000 and ₱1 million. ###