Church Backs Ivory Ban; Fair Hearing for Bishop Sought

By Phoebe Jen Indino
Manila Bulletin
September 26, 2012

ARCHBISHOP PALACE, Cebu City The Catholic Church Wednesday expressed full support for the ban on ivory but sought a fair and just hearing for a bishop linked to alleged smuggling of ivory.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, in a press conference yesterday, stressed that the Catholic Church supports the ban on ivory as it is consistent with the doctrine on stewardship of creation, and the Church respects the laws of the land.

Ivory is considered a by-product or derivative from elephant tusk but its collection is one of the illegal acts identified in Republic Act 9147 or Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

"The Church does not condone ivory smuggling or other illegal activities, although in the past, ivory was one of the materials used in the adornment of liturgical worship," he said.

"While these ivory artifacts crafted long before the ban are considered the cultural heritage of the Church, in no way does it encourage the use of ivory for new implements," Palma added.

Palma issued the statement in the wake of a National Geographic report tagging Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, who headed the Committee on Worship of the Archdiocese of Cebu prior to his sick leave, as one of the best known ivory collectors in the Philippines, who allegedly got some of his ivory collections illegally.

Bryan Christy, who wrote the article "Blood Ivory" in the upcoming October issue of National Geographic magazine, cited that Garcia shared with him how to get an ivory icon and how to smuggle it outside the country.

"He gave me phone numbers and locations. If I wanted to smuggle an icon that was too large to hide in my suitcase, I might get a certificate from the National Museum of the Philippines declaring my image to be antique, or I could get a carver to issue a paper declaring it to be imitation or alter the carving date to before the ivory ban," Christy narrated in his article, referring to his conversations with Garcia.

In the same article Christy described Garcia as a fleshy man with a lazy left eye and bad knees where in the mid-1980s, according to a 2005 report in the Dallas Morning News and a related lawsuit, Garcia, while serving as a priest at St. Dominic's of Los Angeles, California, sexually abused an altar boy in his early teens and was dismissed.

Moreover, Palma disclosed that the Church is willing to coordinate in resolving the matter concerning the alleged involvement of Garcia in the illegal ivory trade but emphasized that the person concerned should be given fair and just hearing.

"The account given by the National Geographic Magazine needs to be assessed as to its veracity, considering that the article smacks of bias against religious practices," said the CBCP president.

Palma admitted that the Church is also aware of the gravity of the crime of pederasty and as to the case of Garcia's past, he told reporters that the case has been elevated to the Holy See that it is also doing its investigation long before the present controversy erupted.

"I have also fulfilled the Holy See's instructions regarding submission of documents and acting upon related consequences," he said.

Palma also revealed that based on his most recent talk with Garcia, the latter is sick and was said to be in a hospital in Manila.

Palma, who is heads the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), served as a co-signatory of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign to free Mali, an elephant in Manila Zoo who PETA described as suffering for decades without companionship or sufficient care.

In a related development, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 7 has formed a team to conduct a field investigation on the reported smuggling of elephant tusks or ivory which are allegedly carved into religious items.

The team, led by Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Cebu Richard Abella with Protected Areas and Wildlife Division chief Jose Layese, and Ariel Rica, will explore possible measures and necessary interventions on how to prevent or avert the entry of these contraband items.

DENR 7 Regional Executive Director Isabelo Montejo pointed out that wildlife traffic monitoring units in strategic air and seaports all over the region are now being alerted to ensure the strict compliance and effective implementation of all existing wildlife laws, rules, and regulations, including pertinent international agreements are fully complied with.

"The investigation will not only focus on certain persons but will also try to look into the local situation," he said.

"We are now closely coordinating with other law enforcement agencies, particularly the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and other concerned authorities on the reported smuggled goods," Montejo said.


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