There should be no letup in the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

This was the message of Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje as he leads the local celebration of the World Environment Day (WED) for the sixth and final time on June 5. This year's theme is "Go Wild for Life, Combat Biodiversity Loss."

It will be a fitting end to Paje's six-year term as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which under his watch has made remarkable strides in the campaign against poaching and illicit trade of wildlife species.

"This is an advocacy that we hold close to our hearts," said Paje, who is scheduled to step down from office on June 30 to give way to the next administration.

Since 2010, the DENR has been successful in seizing elephant tusks, marine and forest turtles, Palawan pangolins and other endangered animals from poachers and illegal wildlife traders.

Paje said the fight against illegal wildlife trade must continue, noting that the "extinction of species is irreversible and losses are permanent."

The DENR has been implementing programs to conserve threatened species such as the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Philippine tarsier (Carlito syrichta), marine turtles, Philippine tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), and Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis).

These conservation efforts have increased the population of tamaraw to 405 in 2015 from 382 in the previous year, and the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) to 535 in 2015 from 239 in 2010. Sightings of the majestic Philippine eagle also increased from 39 to 47.

Between 2010 and 2015, at least 70 new wildlife species were also discovered, which include birds, reptiles, amphibians and rodents.

To combat ivory smuggling and other illegal wildlife trade and support the international community in these causes, the Philippines made a historical breakthrough in 2013 when it became the first non-elephant range country and the pioneer in Asia to destroy more than four (4) tons of illegal elephant ivory and created a task force called Philippine Operations Group on Ivory (POGI).

Since then, twelve countries have followed this bold step. These are the United States, China, France, Chad, Belgium, Hongkong, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Congo, United Arab Emirates and Thailand.

“It was not easy but we stood up because we know it was the right thing to do. We were able to convey our strong message to the world that the Philippines condemns the killing of elephants for ivory harvest and we do not tolerate illegal ivory trade,” added Paje.

The DENR also intensified its enforcement of wildlife laws, which led to the filing of 75 cases and eight convictions.

"We recognize the help of vigilant citizens and organizations which have led to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the culprits behind this despicable act," Paje said.

Despite these achievements, Paje said more needs to be done to combat illegal wildlife trade.

"Driven by high profits, illegal wildlife trade continues. Thus, we must continue, expand and intensify efforts to curb this illicit business, including the importation to the country of invasive species," Paje pointed out.

The environment chief likewise rallied the public to continue supporting the government’s campaign against illegal wildlife trade.

WED is a part of the effort of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to create worldwide awareness and action for the environment. It was first celebrated in 1973 in the United States and since then has been hosted by different cities of the world. Today, it is widely celebrated in more than 100 countries. ###