Four individuals were nabbed by local authorities in the northern Palawan town of Roxas following the “largest haul” of fossilized giant clam shells recorded at around 200 tons, with an estimated market-value of P1.2 billion.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), in a press statement issued on Saturday (April 17), identified the suspects as Rey Cuyos, 54; Rodolfo Rabesa, 48; Julius Molejoa, 47; and Erwin Miagao, 40.
The suspects were apprehended at a coastal village on Green Island in Barangay Tumarbong, Roxas, Palawan province in a joint operation undertaken by the Coast Guard Intelligence Group Palawan, Coast Guard District Palawan, PCSD, PNP – Maritime Group Palawan, AFP Intelligence Operatives, and Bantay Dagat Roxas on Friday morning.
The suspects were placed under police custody after they underwent inquest proceedings for violation of Republic Act No. 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, and Republic Act No. 8850, or the Philippine Fisheries Code.
Earlier this week (Tuesday, April 13), at least 26 tons of abandoned fossilized giant clams, estimated at around P57 million, were also seized by local officials at a coastal community in southern Palawan town of Narra.
Jovic Fabello, spokesperson of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), an environmental agency dedicated to protecting the natural resources in the island province, in a phone interview on Saturday, said that the environmental protection officers were “building up and following leads” to establish the presence of an “organized group” behind the series of seizure of giant clam shells, locally known as “taklobo”.
“Allegedly, meron daw tinatawag na national redemption program for fossilized giant clam shell. This include several groups that has the same modus operandi. So it really seems that this is an organized group,” Fabello said.
Local fishermen claimed the ground value of the giant clam shells is at P2,000 per kilo, enticing other individuals to join the trade that allegedly traces routes to China, Europe, and Japan.
“Dahil sa pandemya, syempre mahirap ang buhay, kakalat na parang wildfire ‘yong bentahan dahil sa sinasabi nilang presyo. Ang sabi, may barko na kumukuha sa Linapacan. Talagang malaking sasakyang pandagat, pwedeng lantsa o barko, ang ginagamit nila kasi mabigat itong taklobo,” Fabello said.
With the global ivory trade down in certain African and Asian countries, the illegal wildlife traders were believed to have turned to the fossilized giant clam shells as a substitute.
The giant clam shells were allegedly being manufactured as decorative items, and its derivatives were claimed to have medicinal value as the powdered giant clam shells were composed of calcium carbonate.
“Ito ‘yong kapalit nung ivory trade, ito ‘yong pinalit nila. Ginagamit ito for carving, ‘yong iba binibilog ito ang ginagawang pearls, and ‘yong sabi ng isang grupo, pina-powder ito kasi calcium carbonate ito at meron daw itong medicinal value,” Fabello said.
The island province of Palawan, known as the “Philippine’s last frontier,” has a wide natural populace of taklobo, which can grow a shell up to 1.4 meters long.
The giant clam shells were previously considered virtually extinct in the 1980s due to indiscriminate gathering by locals for food and shell craft.