The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS), in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Philippines and USAID Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans, and Landscapes (SIBOL) project, organized a five-day Wildlife Deputation Training for wildlife enforcement officers (WEOs) and wildlife trafficking monitoring unit (WTMU) officers. The event was held last March 22-26, 2021, at Astoria Palawan in Brgy. San Rafael, Puerto Princesa City.
The said training aims to equip WEOs and WTMUs with the latest updates on PCSDS’ administrative orders, environmental laws, BRAIN system application, and Palawan’s battle against wildlife trafficking.
The organizers kicked off the event with an expectation setting from the participant. Each attendee penned the concepts and activities they would like to learn and do during the five-day capacity-building training.
“Gusto po sana naming mas matuto pa sa guidelines ng iba’t-ibang environmental laws para pag-uwi namin sa aming area, alam namin kung paano namin masasagot ng maayos yung tanong ng mga tao,” one of the participants wrote on his metacard.
After the expectation setting, Ms. Chai Apale from ZSL discussed the Philippine Pangolin program of ZSL Philippines. In her talk, Ms. Apale focused on ZSL’s studies to determine local communities’ perceptions on the illegal trade of pangolins in Palawan.
“May mga na-interview rin kaming dating pangolin poachers, mostly sa areas sa North. Ang sabi nila, dati raw, nakaka-anim hanggang walong pangolin sila sa isang gabi. Ngayon, mahirap nang hanapin ang pangolins. Alam ng aming respondents na malaki ang market ng pangolins hindi lang sa ibang bansa kundi maging dito sa Palawan. May mga hotspots na sila for pangolin traders na talagang maramihan kung bumili ng mga balintong,” Ms. Apable discussed as she narrates to the group one of their key informant interviews in Northern Palawan.
ZSL also discussed their study’s observations from Lake Manguao in Taytay where their camera traps showed sightings of endemic Palawan species such as musang, tandikan, baboy-ramo, Palawan bearcat, and a mother pangolin and her pup.
Atty. Regina Bella Dioso’s discussion on the Basic Constitutional Framework on Human Rights in the Philippines followed shortly. In her talk, Atty. Dioso stressed that “every Filipino has an equal right in the civil, political, social, and cultural aspect of life.” She also mentioned that it is the State’s duty to protect and preserve its people’s well-being by defending them against discrimination, exploitation, trafficking, and other forms of abuse and violence.
The Legal Framework for Wildlife Enforcement topic was then discussed by Mr. Ian de Vega of PCSDS – EZMED. Mr. Vega explained that the legal framework exists because there is a need to sustainably manage the use of biological resources, especially in Palawan. The province’s biodiversity is unique from the rest of the countries. Hence, Palawan has hundreds of endemic species.
“If these resources are not managed properly, there will come a time that we will have to imagine how Palawan used to look like. That is the future we hope to avoid,” Mr. Vega explained.
Discussions on the RA 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Act, RA 7092, and PCSDS Administrative Order Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12 transpired during the afternoon sessions on March 26. The speakers of the said topics explained the importance of revisiting existing legal guidelines to update PCSDS’ implementation of environmental laws and regulations progressively.
Representatives from PCSDS EZMED then discussed other key topics such as CITES and IUCN provisions, Philippine biodiversity, commonly trafficked wildlife in Palawan, and techniques used by wildlife traffickers to conceal wildlife.
The lectures and hands-on activities on the second and third days of the training were actively participated by the trainees. PEMS Wilky G. Nogales from the City PNP discussed the rules on investigation and surveillance. PEMS Nogales explained in his discussion the significance of writing immediate reports to document an arrest or investigation.
“Mahalaga ang spot report sa trabaho natin kasi yan ang ipapadala natin sa ating higher-ranking officials to inform them about our operation. Dapat within three hours, may maipapadala na tayong report sa kanila para we can be guided with our next steps. Hindi ‘yan basta-basta, kasi tayo ang unang respondent sa insidente. Dapat maisulat mo lahat bago mo makalimutan kung ano ang nangyari during the operation,” PEMS Nogales elucidated.
Mr. Glenn Forbes from the USAID SIBOL project then discussed the topic relative to the application for a search warrant. His lecture focused on the benefits of search warrants in conducting wildlife enforcement activities. Mr. Forbes conversed that a search warrant is a document issued by a court that allows wildlife enforcers to search over a location, a vehicle, or a person. Having a search warrant also enables wildlife enforcers to confiscate pieces of evidence of a crime committed or being committed.
Atty. Joanna Sarah T. Diva of the PCSDS comprehensively discussed the rules of procedure for environmental cases, judicial proceedings for criminal cases and Administrative Adjudication Board (PAB), and revised rules on evidence discussion. In her lecture, Atty. Diva also provided a relevant PCSDS to help the participants better understand the topic.
“Kapag po tayo ay nagsampa ng kaso laban sa wildlife traffickers at mga ilegalista, maging attentive din po tayo kapag tayo ay nakatakdang tumestigo. Ang inyong magiging pahayag po bilang wildlife enforcers na nag-conduct ng operation ay malaking hakbang para maging matagumpay ang laban natin sa mga kasong isinasampa natin. We cannot afford our cases to be dismissed because of our failure to prosecute,” Atty. Diva reminded the attendees.
A virtual discussion on Evidence Photography was discussed by PSSG Romel Kristopher B. De Castro from the regional crime laboratory. He expounded on how evidence photography can provide decisive pieces of evidence about a crime committed. Being the first responders of an environmental crime, the wildlife enforcers should keep in mind that proper crime scene management is first and most important task. The enforcers should not let any unauthorized individual enter the premises of the crime scene to avoid its contamination.
“Let us remember that as first responders, our most important task is to save lives, be it humans or animals,” PSSG De Castro stressed.
A lively and interactive discussion on the most trafficked flora species was facilitated by Ms. Lea Camangeg, a Palawan State University professor. In her lecture, Ms. Camangeg shared their experiences with online sellers who trade Palawan’s endemic and threatened species. She stated that the trafficking of wildlife fauna sometimes outshines the illegal trade of wildlife flora. Her team’s studies reveal that undiscovered wildlife flora species from Palawan were being shipped to neighboring provinces like Batangas.
“Some of our endemic plants even reach foreign countries. It’s a sad truth that fellow researchers from other provinces were able to collect specimens from Palawan without a gratuitous permit, and they were able to transport it to their province without going through the proper procedures,” Ms. Camangeg cited in her discussion.
“We hope that by discussing the current trends in our wildlife flora, we will be able to come up with stricter measures regarding plant collection and gtransport,” she added.
Mr. Salvador Guion from the Palawan Wildlife Rescue Center (PWRC) then facilitated a hands-on wildlife handling practicum. He demonstrated basic techniques in wildlife handling and discussed protocols in transporting wildlife as well as first aid application to rescued wildlife. Mr. Guion also reminded the participants to ensure their safety while handling wildlife.
Mr. Guion then explained these practices through a teach-in activity. The participants closely observed wildlife handling practices through live animal specimens such as the Palawan Hill Mynah, a Blue-naped parrot, and a python. The WEOs and WTMU officers then demonstrated the skills they learned through a hands-on practicum.
The fourth and fifth days of the training focused on the discussion of the Biodiversity Resource Access Information Network (BRAIN) system and its key features. Mr. Glenn Forbes facilitated these activities. A workshop on case filing and prosecution then followed and was led by Mr. Benjie Adriano and Mr. Michael Ello from PCSDS EZMED.
A total of 30 WEOs, WTMUs, and LGU representatives attended the said activity.