‘NBI to take lead in ivory icon inspection’

Posted on October 3, 2012

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Environment Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo (second from right) with NBI Director Edward Villarta and DENR executive director Isabelo Montejo (third from right) answer questions on Friday about how they will conduct their joint investigation into ivory smuggling. (JUNJIE MENDOZA)

IT’S up to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to take  legal action necessary to inspect the ivory religious icons kept  in the compound of the Society of the Angel of Peace (SAP), environment officials said yesterday.

“We already turned over the investigation to  the NBI after we provided technical assistance  to launch an inquiry into the ivory icon collection,” said Regional Director Al Orolfo of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB-7).

His statement indicated that the next steps could be either a raid  or an invitation to a conference where non-cooperation  would have legal consequences.

A PAWB-7 team led last Friday’s surprise visit at the archdiocesan shrine in Talisay where the  monastic society is based.

SAP was founded  by  Msgr.  Cristobal Garcia, the priest quoted extensively in the “Ivory Worship” article written by Bryan Christy for the National Geographic magazine’s October issue.

The PAWB -7 group was not allowed to enter  since they had no search warrant or   order from the Cebu Archdiocese.

Asked when the investigation team would apply for a search warrant,  Orolfo said it’s not up to the environment office  to decide that.

The religious icons in the Shrine of Jesus of Nazarene in Talisay are most likely “private property” of the family of Msgr. Garcia said Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma during last week’s press conference.

The prelate said he was not aware of any documents showing them to be property of the archdiocese and believed most of them were acquired long before as antiques since “this is what well off families do.”

He said it was important to follow due process in the inquiry and that the Archdiocese would cooperate with any legal  investigation. He said  questions for Msgr. Garcia would have to wait until his health improves since the  priest was in a hospital in Makati undergoing a medical checkup for various ailments.

The tricky part about an inquiry into icon pieces, is the difficulty of identifying whether an ivory carving is “new” or made from elephant tusks after the 1990 global ban on ivory smuggling or after 1981, the year the Philippines signed the Convention on International Trade on Endangered speices of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

Apart from NBI and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and National Museum is being  tapped to help  the investigation.

“As agreed during a joint meeting last Sept. 29, with  NBI officials present, the NBI special investigating team may explore available legal means to obtain information from certain individuals,” Orolfo said.

When Cebu Daily News sought the monsignor’s lawyer, Jesus Anthony Garcia, a staffer from his law office yesterday said he’s was on a business trip in Manila.

In the NatGeo article, the writer said Msgr. Garcia referred to names of his “favorite ivory carvers” in Manila, which the writer visited.

A global  ivory trade ban took effect in 1990.

The  ivory trade was identified as the cause of  the slaughter of thousands of  elephants worldwide, particularly in Africa.

Christy’s NatGeo article traced the  illegal ivory trade to China, where  the bulk of ivory is being traded, as well as a continued demand for ivory as religious icons among Catholics and Buddhists.

Last week, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma issued a statement reiterating that the Church supports the ban on ivory trading as “it is consistent with her doctrine on the stewardshp of creation.”/  Correspondent Jessa Chrisna Marie J. Agua

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