Filipinos were outraged when Zamboanga Sibugay provincial board member Maria Esperanza “Mec” Rillera allegedly shared pictures of her consuming turtle eggs that prompted them to accuse her of violating a law.
The pictures were reportedly posted by the public official on Facebook in the second week of October. As of this writing, however, her account can no longer be found on the social media platform.
Despite what may have been an account deactivation, screenshots of the posts surfaced which caused concerned government offices to investigate the matter.
Rillera was accused of violating Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act which prohibits people from collecting, harvesting and possessing wildlife and their by-products, among others.
Some of the illegal acts listed under the law are the following:
- Killing and destroying wildlife species;
- Trading of wildlife;
- Collecting, hunting or possessing wildlife, their by-products and derivatives;
- Gathering or destroying of active nests, nest trees, host plants and the like.
Those found guilty of violating the law can be imprisoned for up to 6 years and be penalized for up to one million pesos.
The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources through orders of the DENR have already initiated the probe following the outraged comments of social media users.
Turtles are considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Richard Rambuyong, Rillera’s counsel, noted that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan board member’s account might have been “hacked” by some of her critics since she is running for reelection.
“I will probably refer to PNP’s Cybercrime group for possible investigation of possible hacking, illegal or unauthorized use of her Facebook account,” he said in an interview.
“It is most likely that it is election related because the campaign period is already fast approaching, and the candidates have already filed their COC,” Rambuyong continued.
Rillera was previously involved in two controversies as a public official.
In 2013, she was accused of “demoting” some of her staff to mere park attendants when she was still the mayor of Titay, Zamboanga Sibugay.
The Civil Service Commission Provincial Office said that Rillera’s actions violated her staff’s “security of tenure.”
The public official also committed a simple misconduct after reassigning a midwife to a beautician office last year. Rillera was charged with violating the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.
The state of turtles in the Philippines
Romeo Trono, a member of the Marine Turtle Specialists Group under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, remarked that turtle egg poaching does not surprise him anymore.
“In all probability, gathering and selling of turtle eggs in the Turtle Islands—even in the Strict Protection Zone in Baguan Island—is happening every day, every night,” he shared in an interview.
Rillera’s alleged post featured the turtle eggs originating from Turtle Islands, which is considered a protected wildlife sanctuary in the southern province of Tawi-Tawi.
Trono revealed that thousands of turtle eggs are always being sold illegally during the turtle’s peak nesting season from July to September.
Last year, members of the Department of Health were accused of turtle egg poaching in the same area. About 5,000 green turtle eggs were discovered in carton boxes owned by the team.
A witness shared in an interview before, “The eggs were hidden in five carton boxes and were only visible when Dr. Sangkula personally distributed the eggs to his staff in ‘sando’ bags aboard a Navy vessel.” — Featured image from Pinoy Naturalist via Facebook