Laguna prelate defends priest tagged in ivory smuggling

A Catholic prelate came to the defense of Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, who was caught in a controversy involving ivory smuggling in the Philippines.

Msgr. Jose Barrion, chairman of the cultural heritage committee of the diocese of San Pablo, Laguna province, said he believed that Garcia’s collection of ivory-made religious images, were acquired a long time ago.

“When you say collection, we’re talking here of antique pieces, items that existed hundreds of years ago,” Barrion said in an interview.

“The images in Monsignor Garcia’s collection were not recently made, those are antiques, probably made long before the law banning ivory trading was implemented,” Barrion said.

He said he was able to visit Garcia’s monastery in Cebu, where the latter’s ivory collections were stored, some three years ago.

Belongs to rich family

Most of the religious images made out of ivory were brought into the country during the Spanish period, Barrion said.

“These are century-old icons collected  or acquired by old rich families,” he said, adding that he knew for a fact that Garcia belonged to a rich family.

With its lax security and corruption, the Philippines was just used as a channel for the illegal shipment of ivory tusks to other countries, Barrion said.

“We don’t have the means to import ivory because it’s expensive and most of the religious icons we have now are made of wood and paper maché,” he said. Tina Santos

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