NGO Letter Urging DENR and PAWB Not to Burn Seized Elephant Tusks

13 June 2013

Hon. Ramon J.P. Paje
Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Hon. Theresa Mundita S. Lim
Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau

Dear Secretary Paje and Director Lim,

We write with urgency to signify our objection to the plan of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to burn about five tons of confiscated elephant tusks on June 21, 2013 at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center (NAPWC). As per DENR press release dated 9 June 2013, "the seized ivory tusks will be crushed by a road roller and burned..." “to show to the whole world that the Philippines will not tolerate illegal wildlife trade.”

At the outset, let us state that we are in full support of the global effort to stop illegal wildlife trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) of which the Philippines is a party to, and that we are one with conservationists in putting an end to elephant poaching.

However, burning the confiscated tusks goes against the prohibition against the open burning of municipal solid waste enshrined in two of our major environmental laws: R.A. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act and R.A. 8749, the Clean Air Act.

Even if the intent is only to conduct “ceremonial burning,” we remain anxious as this will likely send a confusing message to the general public from the environmental authorities that open burning is acceptable. A photo showing the Environment Secretary setting a pile of tusks on fire may be interpreted as a tacit endorsement that “open burning is okay.”

The “open burning is okay” message that may be generated from such a “ceremonial burning” will also not serve the objectives of the Integrated Persistent Organic Pollutants Management Project (IPOPs Project) that the DENR is implementing with financial assistance from the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank to assist the country in meeting its obligations under the Stockholm Convention, specifically with respect to preventing emissions from the open burning of agricultural and municipal solid waste.

To describe the destruction of the confiscated ivory tusks through a process that will create and scatter pollutants (or send a wrong message that “open burning is okay”) as “one of the highlights of the national celebration of June as Environment Month” is completely ironic and a clear breach of the people’s right to breathe clean air that the state recognizes and commits to uphold.

In lieu of open burning, we recommend that the seized ivory tusks be simply crushed and pulverized by a road roller until the tusks are rendered useless to traders and users to ensure that the same are not returned to illegal trade, and then buried for composting at an appropriate site within the NAPWC.

The eco-burial site can serve as a lasting memorial to our country’s commitment to ending illegal wildlife trade and to poaching that is mercilessly killing the elephants. It will be fitting to install a marker at the site made out of combined cement and crushed tusks in memory of the murdered elephants.

We thank you very much for considering our proposal not to burn the confiscated elephant tusks.

Sincerely yours,

Aileen Lucero, EcoWaste Coalition
Roy Alvarez, Alaga Lahat
Jaybee Garganera, Alyansa Tigil Mina
Atty. Heidi M. Caguioa, Animal Kingdom Foundation
Michael M. Alunan, Atin'To Development Services
Joey Papa, Bangon Kalikasan
Noli Abinales, Buklod Tao

Sr. Angie Villanueva, R.C., Cenacle Sisters/JPICC-AMRSP
Esther Pacheco, COCAP
Antonio Claparols, Ecological Society of the Philippines
Dr. Nina Galang, Green Convergence
Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Patria Gwen M.L. Borcena, Greenresearch

Merci Ferrer, Health Care Without Harm
Manny C. Calonzo, IPEN
Betty T. Cabazares, Kinaiyahan Foundation
Neneng Jocson, Krusada sa Kalikasan
Dr. Donna Reyes, Miriam P.E.A.C.E.
Sonia Mendoza, Mother Earth Foundation

Romy Hidalgo, November 17 Movement
Rene Pineda, Partnership for Clean Air
Ana Cabrera, Philippine Animal Welfare Society
Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Philippine Earth Justice Center

Rodne Galicha, Sibuyan ISLE
Mac de Villa, Sining Yapak
Sr. Arcelita Sarnillo, St. Paul de Chartres Health Care Ministry

Ofel Panganiban, Zero Waste Philippines
Elsie Brandes-De Veyra
Dr. Helen Mendoza
Fely Soledad
Atty. Ron. Gutierrez
Atty. Marlon Manuel
Atty. Amang Mejia
Atty. Antonio Oposa, Jr.
(signatories as of 13 June 2013, 8:00 am)