The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has won a lawsuit against a wildlife trader who was caught selling a live green iguana, which is considered an endangered species, in July last year.

DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu welcomed the recent decision of the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 36 convicting Harriet Shelley Velarde for violating Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001.

RA 9147, among others, prohibits the killing, injuring, collection, selling and transport of threatened and endangered wildlife species.

Velarde was sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of one year and one day to two years, and to pay a fine of P200,000.

Cimatu hailed the court ruling as “a victory for the battle against illegal wildlife trade” as he vowed the DENR—through its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB)—will “not waver in its commitment to protect the country’s wildlife species, especially the endangered ones.”

Court records showed that Velarde was arrested on July 18, 2018 in an entrapment operation carried out by the National Bureau of Investigation-Environmental Crime Division (NBI-EnCD) based on an intelligence report that she was selling endangered species in Quezon City.

The NBI-EnCD and Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife or Task Force POGI planned an operation to verify the information using an asset who posed as buyer of the green iguana worth P10,000. Upon receiving the marked money, the operatives apprehended Velarde in front of a sari-sari store in Barangay Sangandaan, Project 8, Quezon City.
Task Force POGI is a composite group of enforcers from the BMB, NBI-EnCD, and the Philippine National Police deputized to go after those who possess and trade illegally acquiredflora and fauna.

Velarde lacked the requisite certificate of wildlife registration or any permit from the DENR to justify her possession of the green iguana, which is listed as endangered in the National List of Threatened Animal Species under DENR Administrative Order 2004-15.

Green iguana is also listed as endangered in Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It is a species native to South America and was illegally transported to the Philippines.

BMB Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez had earlier issued a certification stating that “no person in the name of Harriet Shelly Velarde holds any wildlife permit or has been issued a permit to collect, possess, transport and/or trade wildlife, including its by-products and derivatives.”

In a decision penned by Presiding Judge Carlo Villarama and promulgated last March 13, the court said the prosecution was able to establish all the necessary elements required to prosecute Velarde for illegal sale of one live green iguana.

The court dismissed Velarde’s denial that she did not own the seized wildlife species as “untenable unsupported and unbelievable.”

“The bare denial of the accused carries little weight as against the overwhelming positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses,” it said.

The prosecution witnesses included BMB officials and NBI-EnCD and the Task Force POGI who were involved in the entrapment operation.

Last year, the DENR and its partner law enforcement agencies successfully conducted 10 operations; arrested 15 wildlife crime perpetrators; confiscated more than 2,000 heads of various species of wild animals, over 3,000 pieces of plants, and more than 100 kilos of raw and stewed marine turtle meat worth P57 million; and filed 7 criminal cases against 15 individuals.

Recently, the Bureau of Customs and the DENR Task Force POGI also confiscated more than 1,500 heads of various species of turtle and tortoise at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and also won a lawsuitagainst an illegal wildlife trader who possessed a Malay monitor lizard or bayawak.###