A recent seizure of giant clam shells done in Barangay Panacan, Narra on Tuesday (April 13). Nearly 26,000 kilos of empty shells worth an estimated P57-million were confiscated by law enforcement authorities. // Photo courtesy of Naval Forces West

A syndicate that involves some low level local government officials may be behind the giant clam shell smuggling activities, according to a senior government official.

Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, executive director of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) said he believes the syndicate members are even using falsified government documents and are posing as officials of key agencies such as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the PCSDS as well.

“I think it’s a syndicated group talaga. We have persons of interest working in local government units, but of course we can not name names,” Matta said in an interview Tuesday.

“Ang modus operandi diyan dati, ginagamit ang pangalan ni Gob [Jose Ch. Alvarez], sinasabi na alam na raw ni Gob ‘yan, taga-Japan pa ang buyer. Pero this year, we have received reports na the buyers are saying na taga-BFAR sila, taga-PCSD sila, kaya okay lang na bilhin o mangolekta ng shells,” he added.

Matta also reminded the public – specifically collectors of giant clam shells – not to deal with such types of persons even if they are holding supposed official documents, because it is unlawful to gather, collect, and trade giant clam shells in the Philippines under of Republic Act (RA) No. 9147, or the Wildlife Act.

“These people are capitalizing on the ignorance of some of our constituents. They are using misinformation to conduct their illegal trade by using our agencies’ names,” he said.

Matta added that clam shell gatherers, who are mostly fisherfolk, should stop dealing with so-called buyers so they do not face legal consequences.

“In the past, our enforcers have been very lenient, hanggang confiscation na lang. Pero dahil hindi na kasi natuto, we have to press charges already,” he said.

Matta maintained the council’s theory that the recent seizure of clam shells is possibly related to the decline in the ivory trade in Africa due to stricter international laws. He added that their intel reports that the shells are being shipped to only China and no other country.

“We have (unverified) reports that they are being brought to China. The ban on ivory has made the shells a substitute. I think the use is merely ornamental, wala naman kasing medicinal value na alam ko,” he added.