DENR appeals case vs researchers who killed Cebu rare birds
CEBU CITY, Philippines – Researchers from Cebu Normal University, who killed endemic Siloy birds for a thesis project, are off the hook. But the DENR is trying to salvage what it can of the case, notwithstanding its dismissal by a prosecutor.
It took several months before the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was able to file a motion for reconsideration on the prosecutor's November 5, 2014, ruling that junked the case. In its motion, the DENR legal division said they received a copy of the resolution only on February 18, 2015.
The motion for reconsideration was filed at the prosecutor's office at past 4 pm on Monday, March 2, said Eddie Llamedo, public information officer of the DENR Central Visayas.
The DENR’s Protected Area and Wildlife Division (PAWD), led by OIC Ariel Rica, who acted as the complainant, sought to counter the prosecutor's decision. The DENR-PAWD stipulated that there was probable cause in the violation of Republic Act 9147, otherwise known as the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act. This special law does not require criminal intent to be proven.
“We contend that the research is, in fact, unauthorized, and the environmental impact of killing the Black Shama birds, an endangered species endemic only in Cebu and in the Philippines, outweighs the nobility of its cause,” read the motion, a copy of which was obtained by Rappler.
In its motion, the DENR-PAWD said that the respondents did not deny the killing of 8 endangered Black Shama birds. “In fact, such admissions, albeit interposed with special defenses, are apparent in the counter affidavits that they filed,” read the 7-page motion that asked the prosecutor to reverse its decision and that the case may be filed in court.
The former college student researchers Niñokay Beceril, Elrich Sydney Barinque, Ephem June Fernandez, already graduated from Cebu Normal University (CNU) last March 2014. The other accused persons in the case were their CNU thesis adviser Edward Lawrence of the Biology Department and fellow teachers Nimfa Pansit and Joezen Coralles. On the other hand, University of San Carlos professor Richard Parilla was also among those charged in the environment case.
The Black Shama, locally known as Siloy, is an endangered species that is found only in Cebu Island. The bulk of its population is found in the last remaining forest covers of Cebu Province. The most famous habitat of the Siloys is the mountain barangay of Nugas in Alcoy town, some 90 kilometers south of Cebu.
The researchers' thesis was entitled “Gut content composition of Cebu Black Shama” and was submitted as requirement for their graduation at CNU in March 2014. The students got a permit from the DENR-7 on January 15, 2014 for their study, although the DENR-PAWD said the permit issued did not sanction the killing of Siloy.
The PAWD issued a wildlife gratuitous permit to the researchers for their research originally titled “Diet and Preference of Cebu Black Shama in Cebu Island” which was later changed to another title. “The permittees shall collect a maximum of three heads of Black Shamas per study site only (specified as Alcoy, Argao and Tabunan), a total of nine heads; provided that the permitees shall release the captured species after acquiring the needed samples,” the permit read.
As part of their research, the students dissected eight heads of Black Shama (Copsychus cebuensis). The researchers believed they already had the agency’s go-signal to dissect the birds to study their diet. The species caught were in the protected areas of Tabunan in Cebu City and southern towns of Alcoy and Argao.
In the motion for reconsideration filed by the DENR-PAWD, it was emphasized that the permit did not sanction the killing.
The story of the killed Siloy birds was made public after it was published in local newspaper, Cebu Daily News, in September 2014, after which, a case was filed by the DENR-PAWD.
The bird’s population is now estimated at only 2,500 based on the records of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The bulk is in Nugas, Alcoy, said Llamedo in a separate interview via text message.
"Rapid population declines are suspected to be ongoing as the area of remaining habitat suitable for this species is tiny and continues to suffer from degradation and clearance," Llamedo added.
The Siloy, unlike common birds, cannot adapt to any other habitat than forests.
Definition of 'killing'
Assistant city prosecutor Mary Ann Castro’s November 5 resolution said that killing and destroying of wildlife is unlawful but there is an exception to the rule. This is, if the killing and destruction of wildlife is done for authorized research.
The prosecutor also said dissecting the Siloy is not killing or destroying it. Quoting the Webster Dictionary, Castro explained that killing means “ the intent to end and terminate a living thing or to slaughter for food.”
Dissecting, on the other hand, means compliance with school academic requirements, without the intention to consume or eat, said Castro. “Ergo, the CNU respondents have a legitimate purpose in dissecting a Black Shama, not for food but for academic purpose.”
Castro also cleared CNU teachers of criminal liability, saying that administrative charges should have been filed instead. She added, “Clearly, from the foregoing law provision which herein plaintiff claimed to have been violated by respondents, CNU students and panelists, there was no violation being committed under RA 9147.”
The prosecutor also cleared Parilla, saying he has no involvement in the research.
The motion for reconsideration, on the other hand, pointed out that it cannot be denied that the birds were killed, and that even if the respondents insisted they acted in good faith, the law was still violated.
The DENR also insisted that the gratuitous permit issued to the students specifically provides that the “permitees release the captured species after acquiring the needed samples.”
In the September 2014 report of Cebu Daily News, the paper said that it was during the presentation of the research on March 1, 2014 at USC Talamban Campus, that other researchers found out about, and questioned the methodology used.
“The research was presented last March 1 in a forum at the USC Talamban campus for the 26th Annual Fr. Heinrich Schoenig Biology Symposium where the methodology caught the attention of researchers of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation. They asked why Black Shama birds were killed in the process,” the report said. – Rappler.com