Friday, February 09, 2007

"Massive blow to destructive fishing in world's richest seascape"

Attached as a comment to this post is a press release from the Visayan Sea Squadron, the National Bureau of Investigation of the Philippines and other organisations. This is the first appearance of that press release.


Blogger Caspar Henderson said...



Surgical Strike of the NBI and Visayan Sea Squadron (VSSq)

Cebu City, Philippines, 8 February 2007.

Almost 2.5 tons of blasting powder used for dynamite fishing in the Visayas was seized in a pre-dawn enforcement operation today (8 February 2007) in the Northern Cebu town of Medellin. Enough blasting powder to make nearly 40,000 homemade sticks was seized on the strength of five search warrants issued by the Regional Trial Court of Cebu Judge Geraldine Econg. Conducted with near-surgical precision, some 50 special NBI and VSSq operatives in five teams simultaneously raided the premises of Rene Olivar which yielded the cache of explosives. Olivar is reportedly a public official, an elected councilor of the Municipality of Medellin. His links with organized crime, particularly in the blast fishing business, has long been the subject of undercover surveillance and monitoring.

Largest Seizure of Blasting Powder in the Visayan Marine Triangle

“This is the largest seizure of blasting powder ever in the Visayas and Mindanao regions,” noted NBI-Central Visayas Regional Director Ludgi de Lemos. The NBI served as the lead agency, but was actively supported by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Gov. Joseph Maranon of Negros Occidental, Congressman Leovigildo Banaag, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, the National Anti-Environment Crime Task Force (NAECTAF) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Dept. of Tourism-Scuba Diving Commission (PCSSD), and the Bureau of Fisheries (BFAR), among others. “The operation was the product of more than 1,000 days (3 years) of intelligence-gathering and painstaking field work,” said Visayan Sea Squadron Team Leader Tony Oposa. “It shows what can be achieved when people work hand-in-hand for a common cause.”

Numerous ordinary individuals and non-government organizations also extended their help such as the WWF-Philippines, Tanggol Kalikasan (TK), Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), the Philippine Bar Association (PBA), the University of the Philippines-Visayas, Silliman University, the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE), and plain citizens, including scuba-diving priests.

The “Medellin Cartel”

This operation is expected to paralyze the supply and distribution network of the blasting powder and paraphernalia in the notorious Northern Cebu part of the Visayan Sea. This so-called “Medellin Cartel” of blast fishing has long been notorious as the supplier of all blast fishing paraphernalia in Northern Cebu, Northern Negros Occidental, Northern Iloilo and Southern Masbate.

Fate of the Visayan Sea

Only last week, dire news about the Visayan Sea made national and international news. Based on the marine survey of the Underwater Team of the Visayan Sea Squadron, it was found that the marine ecosystem is on the verge of ecosystem collapse. There is not a single hectare of coral reef intact, and indicator species of fish (groupers and parrotfish) are practically all gone. Marine scientists from Silliman University recently revealed that a commercially-valuable species is been totally depleted and almost ‘extinct.’

The fate of the Visayan Sea mirrors the condition of marine resources in the Philippines. In 2004, it was revealed by international marine scientist Dr. Kent Carpenter and the Washington, DC-based Smithsonian Institution that the Philippine Sea is the “center of the center of marine wealth (biodiversity) on Earth.” In particular, the path-breaking study identified the Central Philippine Islands (part of which are the island provinces of Cebu, Negros, Panay, Bohol, Siquijor and Leyte) as the global ‘epicenter of marine biodiversity.’

Sadly, however, misguided Filipinos have subjected this priceless wealth to intense abuse by, among others, illegal and destructive fishing such as dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing. As a result, Philippine coral reef cover has been reduced from 3 million hectares barely 50 years ago to less than 10,000 hectares in intact condition today.

The alleged mastermind and crime syndicate boss Rene Olivar was able to escape the dragnet, leaving behind his caretaker one Segundino Cuizon, now in NBI custody. Charges for illegal possession of explosives are being readied against Rene Olivar. It carries a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment. In the meantime, a topnotch Legal Team of the Visayan Sea Squadron was mobilized led by top criminal lawyers Sigfrid Fortun, Hector Teodosio, Dante Ramos, Ben Cabrido, Manuel Monzon, Democrito Barcenas, and other volunteers from the IBP. Administrative charges are being readied against Rene Olivar before the Office of the Ombudsman for a string of cases ranging from gross misconduct, corrupt practices, and for violation of the Code of Conduct of Public Officers. Separate charges for anti-fencing (dealing in stolen products), anti-money laundering, and tax evasion are also being studied for investigation and prosecution.

Global Commendation

International praise was immediately received by the NBI and other organizations involved and supporting the enforcement action. From around the world, Prof. Durwood Zaelke, Director of the Washington DC-based International Network of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) said, “This bold and dramatic enforcement action is a symbol of the collective will and a spark of hope for the Filipino people and the Visayan Sea.” Zaelke also added that, “The Visayan Sea is not only a gem in the natural treasures of the Philippines, but is also truly a common heritage of humankind.”

Prof. Nick Robinson, Chairman of the Ottawa-based International Academy of Environmental Law, also sent his congratulations to the NBI-VSSq Team saying, “You and the Filipino people have shown to the world how to use the Rule of Law to conserve, protect, and restore the richest marine waters on Earth. This success should spur the Philippine Government to support the efforts to declare the Visayan Sea -- some 1 million hectares of the richest marine waters in the world -- into a marine protected area.”

Prof. Lye Lin Heng, Deputy Director of the Singapore-based Asia Pacific Center for Environmental Law (APCEL), summed it all up in one word: “Bravo!”

Contact Person:

Mr. Bonar Laureto
The Law of Nature Foundation
6-J Westgate Tower, Investment Drive
1780 Alabang, Muntinlupa City
Telefax: (632) 809-6122


Atty. Antonio A. Oposa
Chairman, IBP-National Environmental Action Team an Team Leader of the Visayan Sea Squadron

1:31 am  

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