Jun 162013
Following an outcry from environmental groups, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is scrapping its plan on June 21 to burn some five tons of seized elephant tusks.

Instead, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje said they will merely crush the tusks at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City, radio dzBB’s Allan Gatus reported.

The report said the DENR initially planned to douse kerosene on the tusks then burn them, to deter people from engaging in tradingtusks.

Last week, environmental groups opposed the DENR’s plan to burn some five tons of seized elephant tusks on June 21, saying it may violate the law and send a wrong message to the public.

“(B)urning 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,” the groups said in a letter to Paje and Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau director Theresa Lim.

Citing a DENR news release, the groups said authorities are to burn the confiscated elephant tusks at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center (NAPWC) in Quezon City.

The DENR, in a news release last June 9, had quoted Paje as saying the tusks “will be crushed by a road roller and burned in the presence of foreign experts and anti-ivory trade advocates on June 21 at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City.” 
A government official on June 11 said that the five tons of confiscated elephant tusks will be destroyed as part of a global campaign to raise awareness against the illegal trade of so-called “blood ivories.” 

The seized tusks represent a portion of the 13.1 tons of Tanzanian elephant tusks seized in 2005 and 2009 that are kept in a government vault, said Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau head Theresa Mundita Lim.

But while the signatories said they support the global effort to stop illegal wildlife trade, burning the tusks may send a message to the public that is confusing at best.

“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,’” they said.

Also, they said an “open burning is okay” message may conflict with the 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.

It may also “breach the people’s right to breathe clean air that the state recognizes and commits to uphold,” they said.

The groups recommended that the government instead crush and pulverize the tusks with a road roller, such that the tusks are rendered useless to traders and users.

They also proposed that the crushed tusks be buried for composting at an appropriate site within the NAPWC. —KG, GMA News

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