Philippines: Sea turtle rescued in Malaysia slaughtered for meat in Cebu

Rhodina Villanueva The Philippine Star 14 Dec 18;

MANILA, Philippines — A marine turtle rescued and tagged in Malaysia ended up in the freezer of a restaurant in Cebu.

Dr. Rogelio Demelletes Jr. of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Biodiversity Management Bureau said an identification tag was found on one of the turtles, among the endangered species in the world.

Demelletes said wildlife conservationists had rescued and tagged the pawikan that was reportedly caught in Sandakan, Malaysia and later released to the open sea.

He believed the turtle migrated to Philippine waters and got caught by local fishermen who brought it to Cebu.

The turtle and other pawikans were sold to traders in Pasil, which is one of the region’s biggest seafood markets.

Demelletes said they had to conduct a “test buy” a month ago before they were able to prove that indeed it was turtle meat being sold in an eatery in Barangay Pasil. The DENR had earlier received reports that turtle meat is being sold in the area.

“However, it was difficult at first because what they’ve been serving are cooked meat already. We reasoned out that our friend will cook a special dish that’s why we are buying raw meat,” he said in an interview.

Demelletes added that sample raw meat can still be subjected to “DNA sequencing” test to check what kind of meat it is. Body parts showed that the meat came from five to six juveniles and an adult green sea turtle, he noted.

He said that after they confirmed it was turtle meat, they formed a team and conducted an operation in the eatery.

Last Tuesday, the DENR and agents of the Central Visayas regional office of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Cebu City government confiscated about 60 kilos of pawikan meat from an eatery on Rallos Street.

“It was also that time when we were able to check that one of the six turtles they butchered came from Sandakan, Malaysia since it bore a tag. It was rescued and rehabilitated there. This species is migratory so when it came to Cebu, it was captured and killed,” Demelletes added.

He noted that Cebu City, particularly Barangay Pasil, had been a known site for illegal trade of wildlife meat.

Five people were arrested during the operation – eatery cashier Donesa Bustamante, cook Cresley Obatay and helpers Ariesteo Pableo, Julio Abunta and Clifford Obatay.

Charges of multiple counts of possessing, trading and killing endangered species were filed against the suspects.

Under Republic Act No. 9147 (Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act), trading of endangered animals or their byproducts is punishable with imprisonment of at least six months to one year with accessory penalty of P10,000 to P100,000.

For the slaughter of pawikan, a violator may be imprisoned for six to 12 years and fined between P100,000 and P1 million. – Mylen Manto, May Miasco/Freeman