Bardiness

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Elephants and Ivory – Philippines Style


Africanelephant01Almost
2000 elephants have met their doom to furnish the 18 tons of ivory
seized by the Philippines in the last seven years.

According to
National
Geographic
 who headline it as 
Ivory
Worship, 
the
ivory enters the country from Africa through the southern Philippines region of Mindanao.

It's
estimated that one elephant produces 10kg of ivory.

The
ivory tusks are carved into religious objects, most notably that
of Santo Niño 
 -
the icon of Jesus Christ as a boy – and such is the fondness of
religious statues made of ivory, the country has become one of the
major destinations of the illegal trade.

The
best known collector is a priest, 
Monseigneur
Cristobal Garcia
 in
Cebu, who displays them during the 
Feast
of Sto Nino
 throughout
the local provinces. 

He
justifies his investment as heirlooms – an investment in devotion –
because icons made of wood or fibreglass is not enough to please his
flock. He says that the material of choice is ivory.
 "God
appreciates the lavish offering"
 he
says.

He
is supported by 
Father
Vicente Lina Jr. 
director
of the Diocesan Museum of Malolos in Bulacan, who
calls it an 
offering
to God
.
When questioned about the wealth, he defends it by proclaiming that
devotion alone is not enough. 
"Surely
if it is wrong, God would put a stop to it"
 he
says.

His
argument is that it's okay to obtain illegal ivory if it's turned
into spiritual items. The fact that it is in contravention
to CITES (the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and
Flora), and a convention that his own country has signed up to,
bothers him not a jot.

A
few families control most of the ivory carving in Manila, holding
massive quantities of tusks, and two main dealers are based in the
city's 
religious
supplies
 district
of Tayuman. They even smuggle ivory carvings via priests to the
USA. It's the best method because they paint the ivory to
resemble wood, or make hand painted statuettes of resin to camouflage them. In some cases they are hidden in the bottom of funeral
caskets. Indeed, his eminence Garcia boasts about how easy it is to get through US customs.

Collectors
and dealers actually share photographs of their ivory
on Flickr and Facebook, such is their impunity and
disregard (even ignorance) of the law. It's an unusual phenomena
that social networking encourages vanity, and it must be a great
asset to the forces of law – the notion that collectors (priests
included) are on Facebook displaying their ivory proves the
point that nobody cannot resist the opium of attention.

 CITES,
the administrator of the 1989 global ivory ban was established
because in the decade between 1980 and 1989 a mass slaughter took
place in Africa and the continent lost half her elephants –
more than 600,000.The focus was elsewhere, specifically directed at
the Chinese, who have always been public enemy number one where Ivory
was concerned. The Philippines was just a blip on the radar then.

There's
a problem here, and it's not just about ivory. It's about attitude
and education. It beggars the question how in the 21st 
century
some priests in the Philippines are behaving like 19th
 century
dominant Dominicans? The very people that the national hero Jose
Rizal 
 wrote about in his book Noli me Tangere, and was subsequently murdered by firing squad
as a consequence.

How are Filipinos expected to embrace the modern world, when the
very people they look up to and revere treat them as if they are
still mired in the dark ages?

Elephants
and Ivory. It's not in harmony. It's a euphemism for the oppressed
and defenceless, and exploited by the powerful and corrupt.

 

 

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September 26, 2012 - Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Religion, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , ,

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