Nat’l Museum to carbon-date items to determine if ivory is illegal

Posted on November 21, 2012

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One of many icons of the Baby Jesus in Msgr. Cristobal Garca’s collection seen in the Collegium Societatis Angeli Pacis Immaculate Heart of Mary Refuge in Cansojong, Talisay City. (FILE PHOTO)

A government team yesterday announced that at least six religious images in the collection of controversial priest Msgr. Cristobal Garcia that were made of ivory.

But the joint team of personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) cannot yet determine if the ivory icons were sourced from illegally traded ivory.

They said they still have to wait for experts from the National Museum to examine the age of these images.

The presence of ivory icons in the collection of Msgr. Garcia that was stored in the Collegium Societatis Angeli Pacis Immaculate Heart of Mary Refuge in Cansojong, Talisay City was the subject of October 2012 National Geographic Magazine story entitled “Ivory Worship” by American journalist Bryan Christy.

The National Geographic cover story identified Cebu as one of the trading routes of ivory from Africa. The article mentioned Garcia’s collection of ivory-made images.

DENR ecosystems management specialist Ariel Rica, who was part of the team composed of DENR personnel and the NBI, said they managed to get inside Garcia’s compound.

He said they were even met by his lawyer who accommodated them during the entire inspection.

Rica said they saw thousands of religious images. They asked Garcia’s lawyer to identify which of them is made of ivory.

Only six images were identified as ivory made. This includes a finger-size Sto. Niño, which was still inside a box. The entire figure is made of elephant tusk.

The other five images include another Sto. Niño, San Vicente Ferrer, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mother Mary, and Baby Jesus. But these images only had their faces and hands made of ivory. .

Rica also clarified that the image of the Baby Jesus that was published in newspapers was made of wax, not ivory. It even has a glass container, since exposing it outside for a long time will only melt it.

Most of the images in the collection are made of fish bones.

Rica said they are waiting for experts from the National Museum to arrive within this month to conduct radioactive carbon dating.

He said this is the only way to determine the age of the ivory used in making the images.

NBI-7 supervising agent Gregorio Algoso said ivory trading became illegal only in 1981 after the Philippines joined the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

CITES banned ivory trading in 1975. The ivory trade caused the drastic decline in elephant population in especially in Africa.

Rica said if radioactive carbon dating proves that the images are dated way before 1975, Msgr. Garcia may not be liable since ivory wasn’t banned in those days.

Earlier, Garcia’s camp clarified that all the images were passed on to him by his family while the others were donated.

Msgr. Garcia has been suspended by the Cebu Archdiocese on orders of the Vatican since June this year for allegedly committing sexual abuses while he served as a missionary in the US in the 1980s. /Carine M. Asutilla, Correspondent

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