While most of the staff of religious stores in Sta. Cruz, Manila, claim that they do not offer statues with ivory parts because it is illegal, a couple of stores still sell these images with a price tag of P40,320 and another at around P230,000, the Philippine Daily Inquirer learned Tuesday.
A National Geographic article said the Philippines was one of the destinations for the ivory tusks of butchered elephants because of the Filipinos’ fondness for religious items carved from fine materials.
Store clerks pointed to a shop owned by Marcial Bernales on Oroquieta Street when asked about religious images made from ivory. The shop, which prominently displays the statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary La Naval de Manila, was locked from the inside.
The staff member who opened the glass door said the image was worth around P230,000 because the faces and hands of Mary and of baby Jesus were made from ivory. She added that the intricate embroidery added value to the statue about 90 centimeters tall.
The staff said the store was mostly for dressing up religious statues owned by collectors, some of whom were priests. She answered evasively when asked for more details. She locked the door when the Inquirer entered and left.
The Inquirer tried to contact Bernales but he was not available.
On the other side of the street was Catholic Trade (Mla.) Inc., a store owned by the religious order Society of the Divine Word, which sells a 51-cm tall Our Lady of Fatima with ivory head, hands and feet for P40,320.
Fr. Carlos Maria de Guzman, the store manager, was not around for comment.
A staff said the statue was already carved when it was delivered to the store. She added that it was bought from legal sources but declined to name the supplier.
At the corner of Oroquieta is Tayuman Street, where the previously raided Our Lady of Manaoag store is located. The staff said the owners won a court case against the agencies that raided the store because the ivory tusks and images were legally acquired. But the owners have stopped selling the items and just kept them as a collection.
Store clerks from other shops said a statue with an ivory head and hands usually costs P150,000 while the same image made from wood, fiber glass or resin would just fetch P1,000.
In his report titled “Ivory Worship” that appeared in the October issue of NatGeo magazine, Bryan Christy said a few families controlled most of the ivory carving business in Manila, “moving like termites through massive quantities of tusks.”
Christy said two of the main dealers were based in the city’s religious district in Tayuman, Sta Cruz.