An apparent attempt to ship out of the country 35 igem-dagat trees (Podocarpus costalis) was recently thwarted after wildlife officers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Southern Luzon confiscated them from a garden shop in Calamba, Laguna.
In a memorandum order, I directed DENR Region 4A Regional Executive Director Nilo Tamoria to immediately conduct confiscation proceedings for the 35 igem-dagat trees presently deposited at Robelle’s Garden in Calamba City.
Igem-dagat is included in the list of threatened species being protected by the government. Its trade is strictly regulated by the DENR.
I likewise ordered Tamoria to deny the request of the trees’ claimant, Vice-Mayor Licerio Antiporda of Buguey,Cagayan, for a permit to transport any of the subject igem-dagat trees from Calamba to Manila.
Earlier, Tamoria had ordered his field staff to secure the trees, consisting of 18 earth- balled and 17 potted in bonsai pots, following a tip that an undetermined number of igem-dagat trees were clandestinely brought to the garden shop from Cagayan aboard 18- and 20-wheeler trucks.
The tree species thrives almost exclusively in Taiwan and in Cagayan Province, particularly in Calayan Island.
“The tree is a highly-prized possession among Feng Shui practitioners, especially in Taiwan, because the tree is believed to have powers to attract good fortune especially if a fully-grown tree is planted in their lawns. The bigger or older the tree, the brighter the future or higher profits for business,”explained DENR-CENRO for Los Baños Emiliano Leviste, adding that a juvenile igem-dagat with a height of two feet could easily be sold at P1,000 while a fully-matured tree could command as much as P1 million.
In its report, the team said that among the documents submitted by Antiporda were two certificates of transport agreements (CTAs) and a certificate of tree ownership (CTO). One of the CTAs was issued by DENR’s Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) for Aparri, Cagayan Proceso Canapi to a certain Lito Peñaranda, allowing the transport of 14 earth-balled igem-dagat trees from Buguey, Cagayan to Manila North Harbor.
The other CTA was issued to a certain Alwin Fernando by CENRO for Sanchez Mira, Cagayan Vicente Bayucan for the transport of 24 igem-dagat trees from barangay Minabel in Calayan Island to Buguey, Cagayan.
The team, however, noted that the spaces provided in both CTAs to indicate the purpose of the transport were blank.
It also noted that “there was no specific transport permit covering the 35 igem-dagat trees found in RG’s Garden from Cagayan to Laguna.”
Citing that “the collection of these threatened species was clearly for commercial purposes,” the team recommended that all of the 35 trees “be subjected to confiscation proceedings” while, at the same time, stressing that none of the CTAs presented by Antiporda were issued to him.
The team also debunked Antiporda’s claim that the trees were planted in 1975 and were harvested from a private land in Cagayan province, as indicated in the CTO issued by CENRO Bayucan.
The team noted the trees’ ages could be anywhere between 70 to 200 years old going by the sizes of the 18 earth-balled trees which range from 30 to 70 centimeters diameter at breast height (dbh), stressing that the tree is a slow growing species with an annual growth rate of less than one centimeter dbh.
The team, headed by DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau Assistant Director Antonio Manila with Dr. Edwino Fernando of the College of Forestry at UP Los Baños representing the National Wildlife Management Committee and three DENR legal officers and a wildlife regulation expert on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), also wrote in its report that “some of the trees would take two pairs of arms to encircle their trunks. As such, these trees could not have been planted in 1975 as indicated in the certificate of registration of tree plantation/s in private lands issued by CENRO-Sanchez Mira on February 13, 2007, but naturally grown.”