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Palace assures no deal on 12 Chinese poachers

THE government will not compromise on the fine that will have to be paid by the 12 Chinese seamen who ran their vessel aground the protected Tubbataha Reef last week on April 8, a Palace spokesman said on Saturday. “We cannot compromise on the damages, those are mandated by law and valued according to what the law dictates. So we only follow the law,” Valte said in an interview over government radio station dzRB. Valte made the assurance amid concerns from environmentalists that several Chinese seamen have been caught poaching in Philippine waters but were eventually released upon the instance of the Chinese government. According to the Environmental Legal Assistance Center in Palawan, more than 600 Chinese fishermen have been caught poaching in Philippine waters over the past decade but almost all of them were released after a short time in jail. “The government has always treated them (fishermen) with kid gloves for political considerations so as not to cause any adverse reaction from China,” said the center’s head Gerthie Mayo-Anda. But Valte maintained that the 12 seamen who were caught at Tubbataha have been charged in court and are in detention at the Palawan Provincial Jail. “We will seek to quickly prosecute and resolve this case... No one can just enter our waters and willfully destroy our marine life,” said provincial prosecutor Alen Ross Rodriguez. They 12 were charged with unauthorized entry, damage to the reef and poaching under Republic Act 10067, or the Tubbataha Act of 2009. They were also slapped an additional charge of attempted direct bribery after they offered to pay arresting officials $2,400 for their freedom. If found guilty, the men can be sentenced to 12 years in prison. According to Palawan environmental legal officer Adelina Villena, they are also preparing another charge in connection with the recovered pangolins, penalized for 12 and 20 years jail term. Authorities said pangolins are widely hunted in parts of Asia for their meat, skin and scales. Pangolin scales sell for as much as P5,000 a kilo and is a traditional Chinese medicine, but authorities have not determined the species of the pangolin that were seized from the Chinese seamen and whether they came from the Philippines or other southeast Asian countries. Their 157-foot vessel, the Ming Long Yu, was removed from the reef on Friday, Valte added. The boat was tugged Puerto Princesa City where it will be kept as evidence until the trial of the case starts on May 22 at the sala of Executive Judge Jocelyn Sundiang-Dilig of the Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 51. Only days before the Chinese vessel ran aground at the reef, salvors finished the dismantlement of the US Navy minesweeper Guardian which ran also aground last January 17.
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