The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) continues to enforce the law against illegal wildlife activities despite the limitations of the pandemic as proven by the arrest of a total of 31 wildlife traders from March 2020 to May 2021.

Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said the arrest of illegal wildlife traders and poachers is "a testament to the DENR's effective enforcement of Republic Act (RA) 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001."

"While we admit that the 20-year old RA 9147 needs to be amended, we at the DENR are doing our best to equip our indefatigable wildlife enforcers who never ceased in apprehending illegal wildlife traders and poachers during the COVID-19 pandemic," Cimatu said.

He pointed out that the DENR's Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) continues to strengthen the capacity of its wildlife enforcers with training activities and seminars on various areas of wildlife law enforcement such as the national and international laws, intensifying the monitoring of seaports and airports, and buttressing cross-collaborative efforts with other law enforcement agencies.

DENR Undersecretary for Special Concerns and concurrent BMB Director Edilberto Leonardo also expressed the support of the BMB to amend RA 9147.

"Illegal wildlife trade is considered a transnational crime. The current law that exists no longer impedes perpetrators in engaging in this act," Leonardo said.

"The technology brought about by the internet also serves as a new platform for these culprits, which a 20-year old law cannot penalize severely," he pointed out.

Some bills were filed in Congress, resulting in a substitute House Bill titled "An Act Providing for the Conservation and Protection of Wildlife Resources and their Habitats, and Appropriating Funds Therefore, Repealing for this Purpose Republic Act No. 9147 or the “Wildlife Resources Conservation And Protection Act."

The bill, sponsored by Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato and 15 other representatives, was approved at the House Committee on Appropriations last May 26.

Its salient features include defining and penalizing the crime on wildlife trafficking; calibrating and upgrading the penalties in general, especially the penalty for illegal acts such as killing or destroying wildlife species, trading or attempting to trade wildlife, collecting, hunting, or possessing wildlife and transporting of wildlife.

According to Leonardo, the measure also contains provisions "that each and separate distinct count of violation shall be prosecuted and penalized separately, regardless of intent, unity or connections of the acts resulting into the violation."

"We also hope that the House Bill empowers us to penalize culprits based on the number of specimens involved in every illegal act and the circumstances surrounding each proven violation," Leonardo said.

Counterpart Senate Bills 2078 and 2079 also known as the proposed Revised Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2021 were also filed by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senator Cynthia S. Villar, respectively.

Both bills are due for a public hearing on June 30, 2021, at the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change.

The proposed bills hope to address and end the large-scale, transnational, and organized crime of wildlife trafficking, the re-calibration of penalties, and provision of administrative adjudication. ###