ASEAN member states could be the world leaders in sustainable development.  We could be the prime example of how the protection of our natural resources benefits not just the world, but contributes largely as well to national progress and to the well-being of the citizens. But the biggest problem across Southeast Asia that keeps us from attaining that status is sorely lacking implementation of our environment laws and environmental resource management.

About a month ago, the Philippines’ Bureau of Customs was able to foil a plot to smuggle out of the country over P35 million worth of black corals, stuffed endangered sea turtles and other marine species. A second, related shipment of black corals, estimated to be worth P15million, was seized two weeks later in Cebu.

It is appalling that the amount of black corals harvested by the poachers amount to the “rape” of an area in Cotabato that would be equivalent to twice the size of Manila.  That such a large area could have been harvested of black corals almost completely undetected is already alarming.  That the shipment reached Manila and was almost shipped overseas is even more dismaying.

Malacañang has called on the public to boycott the trade in black corals and has announced that part of the government’s efforts to step up environmental protection is to educate the public about the illegal trade.  While we are fully supporting such efforts, we also urge the government to employ more strategic frontline defences in the protection of our marine life and other environmental resources.

The Philippines is among the few countries with pioneering environment laws, and yet we remain very much behind because of implementation.  The black coral situation is just one example.  Just like we can’t wait for the rest of the world to lower their carbon emissions for us to survive extreme weather events from climate change, we also can’t afford to wait for the coral trade to be less profitable. We have to take action now, otherwise we lose the very stuff that marine life depend on for survival, which we also depend on for our own survival.  

Similarly, in Indonesia, a moratorium on logging that was recently announced by their government is apparently not strong enough to stop the rape of large tracts of peatlands and rainforests.  Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter (behind only China and the US) mostly by virtue of the amount of carbon dioxide that escapes to the atmosphere when their forests are cut down.

It is not only the fashionistas eyeing the black corals that have to worry about being accessory to the “rape” of Mother Earth, but everytime we use paper or buy products with paper packaging, most likely we are using consumer goods that, like the black corals, do not come from sustainable sources and through sustainable practices.

Check your paper manufacturer: the biggest supplier in the Philippines, and indeed the whole of SEA, is the Sinar Mas subsidiary, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a notorious rainforest destroyer which has been exposed many times for wrecking Indonesia’s rainforests to make throw-away packaging.

Companies that used to be supplied largely by APP with paper and palm oil from destroyed Indonesian rainforests have denounced APP and sought other suppliers.  Just last year, Greenpeace cyber actions were finally able to turn Nestle from using Sinar Mas palm oil in its KitKat bars.  This week, you might want to join efforts to stop Mattel from using APP paper in the packaging of Barbie. You just might help stop the clearing of about one million hectares of Indonesian rainforests annually, and hopefully lower incidence of extreme weather events hitting our shores.

If we’re successful in stopping the trade of black corals from Philippine reefs and the use of paper and palm oil from Indonesian rainforest destruction, then we help not only Mother Earth and the implementation of environmental laws, but ultimately we help ourselves.