Authorities have identified a local person with connections to a Chinese businessman linked to illegal activities, as behind the recent attempted smuggling out of Palawan of a large volume of dried pangolin scales and other wildlife.
A certain Garry Abriol, a known associate of local Chinese businessman Tony Sy, is currently the subject of a manhunt as he is reportedly the owner or occupant of the apartment where bales of dried pangolin scales, seahorses and marine turtle carapace were discovered during a raid Friday night.
Sy had been involved in wildlife smuggling case in 2014 but the case was dismissed during the preliminary investigation stage. He is currently implicated in the smuggling into Palawan of hundreds of Chinese workers illegally working on online gambling operations.
Abriol is also the head of a company Octofox IT Solutions. His name first came to light when he presented himself in March in a City Council probe as the president of Octofox which was trying to set up an offshore gaming operation in Puerto Princesa with supposedly 250 Chinese nationals as employees.
Western Command (WESCOM) spokesperson Lt. Colonel Stephen Penetrante said their operatives have identified him as the owner of the 65 abandoned sacks and boxes of dried hawksbill turtle scutes, pipefishes, seahorses, and pangolin scales they confiscated on September 27 from a two-storey house at Purok Pagkakaisa, Barangay San Pedro.
“Itong si Garry Abriol, due to the stakeout of our operatives — sapagkat may mga nagsumbong sa atin regarding that stockpile — so, our operatives made a stakeout and according to them this Garry Abriol is from the province of Palawan. And according to our operatives, he’s involved in wildlife trafficking noon pa man,” he said in a press conference Saturday at WESCOM.
Penetrante said the confiscation of the wildlife by-products on September 27 was a special intelligence operation conducted by WESCOM against Abriol who allegedly uses his business as a front for his illegal wildlife trafficking activities.
He said a follow-up operation is now being conducted to capture Abriol.
“Siya po ang may-ari [ng mga nakuha]. Itinuturo siya,” Penetrante said.
Penetrante said WESCOM is thankful to informants who have helped them locate the house that Abriol was using as a storeroom for his wildlife smuggling business.
He said upon verification, their Naval Forces West (NFW) personnel under the leadership of Commodore Sean Anthony Villa set out to conduct the operation in San Pedro.
“Hinahanap po itong si Mr. Garry Abriol ng ating mga operatives at darating ang panahon mahahanap din natin ito sapagkat ang mga Palaweño tumutulong sa atin at saka ‘yong involved na agencies ng ating gobyerno. Talagang nasa red flag na itong si Garry Abriol,” he said.
In a separate statement distributed to the media also Saturday, WESCOM commander Vice Adm. Rene Medina assured they will continue to collaborate with environmental authorities and other government agencies to put a stop to self-organizing groups of individuals who make businesses out of the province’s wildlife species.
The September 27 operation resulted in the recovery of 38 sacks of dried pangolin scales, 18 boxes of dried seahorses and pipefishes, and nine boxes of assorted sea turtle scutes, some of them from Hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata).
Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) spokesperson Jovic Fabello said they are still completing the inventory of these recovered by-products to determine their exact kilos.
But based on 2013 black market estimates, the pangolin scales alone per kilo cost $600 or around P31,000.
“Pertaining to the pangolin scales, in 2013 ang presyo niyan nasa $600 per kilo. Basically, it’s P31,000 in Philippine money. According to the internet, in the black market, it could go up to $3,000 (or P155,000) per kilo in Hong Kong,” he said.
Wildlife trafficking, Fabello said, probably never stops because it is “easy money and resources are still available”.
The “discreet system” that wildlife traffickers follow cannot be easily cracked, he explained, unless environment and law enforcement agencies “really” work together with community residents who know what is going on in their area.
“Pangolins are easily poached compared to other wildlife species, magro-roll lang ‘yan into a ball, you can already pick it up and put in a sack. Madali rin siyang itago because during transport it does not emit sounds, it does not squeak or anything so, very silent — it’s very easy to conceal, very easy to transport, and very lucrative in terms of the price it fetches for its scales and meat,” he said.
All the products that were confiscated, Fabello said, are used in traditional Chinese medicine to cure various illnesses.
Fabello said the scales of pangolins are claimed to have lactation properties and can cure skin diseases.
“They said it’s detoxifying and has lactation properties na nakakatulong daw sa katawan ng tao. Pangolin is the most trafficked wildlife in the world and its protection status is very high. It is critically-endangered and talagang ang nipis na ng kanyang population that kailangan talaga natin siyang protektahan ng husto,” he said.
Fabello said from Palawan, the pangolins are brought to Manila before they are transported to Vietnam, Hong Kong, and mainland China — the three main markets for poached wildlife species.
“Ang seahorse hindi masyadong mataas ang presyo, but it is also used in traditional Chinese medicines. Ang seahorse dina-dry din ‘yan — it will be blended into a concoction para sa hika and other diseases,” he said.
Hawksbill turtle scutes are prized for their decorative uses. In Japan, they are called bekko and are used to make eyeglasses frames and the traditional three-stringed instrument called shamisen.
“All our sea turtles are critically-endangered kaya mataas din ang protection status. Sa pipefishes meron dyan na nakapasok sa aming list of threatened species pero ang iba hindi pa nakakapasok,” he said.
The PCSD is now in the process of updating Palawan’s list of threatened species, he said, so those that have not made it yet will already be protected.
The owner of the wildlife products, he said, will face charges for violating the Wildlife Act of the Philippines.
“The fines and penalties will be based on the protection status of the wildlife species that were poached,” he said.