A Cebu priest known for his collection of religious icons carved from ivory may have incriminated himself with his revelations on the illegal trade in an investigative report appearing in National Geographic and reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine newspaper reported on its front page today.
Monsignor Cristobal Garcia could face up to four years in prison unless he could show proof that his ivory collection was acquired legally, the Inquirer reported the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said on Tuesday.
Bryan Christy reported in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic that he traveled to the Philippines to understand the country’s ivory trade. In the town of Cebu he met Garcia, a senior Catholic cleric and one of the best known ivory collectors in the Philippines, who told Christy how to smuggle religious carvings from illegally obtained elephant ivory into the U.S. Trade in ivory is banned by an international treaty signed and verified by both the Philippines and the U.S.
From today’s Inquirer‘s story: “Mundita Lim, director of the DENR-Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), said regional environmental officials launched a probe of the report that the priest was in possession of ivory Sto. Niño figures acquired using questionable means. ‘He has to be able to show that he has a CITES permit from us,’ Lim said, referring to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. She said the only “legal” ivory allowed in the country was the kind that was taken before the convention took effect more than 30 years ago. ‘Otherwise we will charge him with illegal possession of ivory and illegal trade, if there’s evidence he is also involved in buying and selling,’ Lim said in a phone interview.”
Lim told the Inquirer the National Bureau of Investigation would take the lead in the filing of formal charges against Garcia and possibly others who might be involved if the investigation turned up sufficient evidence.