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12 Chinese seamen charged

Fishermen offered rangers $2,400


ANOTHER ONE STUCK ON THE REEF Philippine Coast Guard personnel on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, inspect the Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground on a reef in the World Heritage-listed Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Sulu Sea on Monday night. AFP/PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—The 12 Chinese fishermen whose boat got stuck in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on Monday night were slapped with charges of poaching and other violations of the marine park’s rules.

They were detained at the provincial jail facility here following inquest proceedings on Tuesday afternoon.

President Aquino said swift legal action would be taken against crewmen of the steel-hulled vessel Ming Long Yu.

“So the bottom line is we have a law. It’s Republic Act (No.) 10067 that states, perhaps, everything that needs to be known (about prohibited acts in the marine park),” he said on Wednesday in an ambush interview at the Roxas City airport.

RA 10067 states that anyone entering the protected zone without a clearance from the Tubbataha Management Office is considered a poacher, the President said.

He said poaching had corresponding penalties—either imprisonment or fines—and stressed that “our job as the executive department is to execute this law.”

The President disclosed plans to add more lighted buoys in the area, and to expand the so-called buffer zone to protect it from intruders.

“It’s like coming up with bigger signs (that will say), ‘Don’t transit near this area’ to forestall any possibility that there will be another grounding incident,” he said.

Bribery attempt

The Chinese, all crew members of what was reported as a 48-by-8-meter fishing vessel that rammed into Tubbataha’s north islet, were also expected to face additional charges, including attempted bribery.

Rangers at the World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea said the Chinese offered them a bribe of $2,400 immediately after the boat ran aground.

“We went ahead with the filing of the poaching case first and other violations under the law that created the Tubbataha marine park,” lawyer Adelle Villena of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development told the Inquirer.

She said other cases, including that one involving bribery, would follow.

Owners to be charged

Asked if the Philippine government would press the Chinese government to take responsibility for the incident, Aquino said owners of the Chinese vessel would not be spared.

“I think, the law says that those caught (poaching) will be made accountable. It’s a fishing vessel. So it will be the owners of the fishing vessel, among others, who will be charged,” he said.

Diplomatic pressure

A nongovernment organization called on the government to act decisively in prosecuting the 12 Chinese, noting that the government in the past yielded to diplomatic pressures in almost all cases involving Chinese poachers caught in various parts of Palawan.

“We have not been consistent in applying the full force of the law against Chinese poachers. If you look at what happened with all of the cases involving Chinese nationals, it is easy to conclude that we have been treating them with kid gloves,” the Environmental Legal Assistance Center said in a statement.

The Chinese crew members were fetched from Tubbataha by the Coast Guard patrol vessel BRP Romblon right after the incident and were first brought to the Camp Artemio Ricarte medical facility for a checkup.

Consul general

Chinese Consul General Shen Zicheng and 3rd Secretary Li Jian flew to Palawan on Tuesday and held a closed-door meeting with Western Command officials while the detainees were undergoing a medical checkup.

“They are all generally fit and healthy. A couple had some minor head abrasions but overall there is no need for any further medical attention,” Capt. Alekhine Tinio, a Western Command surgeon, told reporters at the camp.

In Mambusao, Capiz, administration senatorial candidate Jamby Madrigal said the Chinese crew should be thrown in jail and their fishing boat seized.

“If Filipinos went to Chinese waters and went fishing there, they wouldn’t just be arrested, they would be shot at because we’re speaking of territorial waters. We’re still rather kind,” Madrigal told reporters as the Team PNoy senatorial ticket campaigned in the province.

Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara, also a senatorial candidate on the administration ticket, said the Chinese fishers should be given the penalties proportionate to the damage caused by their intrusion.

For her part, Sen. Loren Legarda, a reelectionist on the administration ticket, said the owner and crew of the Chinese fishing vessel should be put to task for encroaching on Philippine waters and damaging the Unesco World Heritage Site.

Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo, the Coast Guard spokesman, said the 48-meter boat remained stuck on the same spot where it ran aground on Monday night.

The vessel, with the marking 63168, is “being closely guarded by PCG and Navy personnel as well as by Tubbataha Marine Park rangers,” he said.

The Chinese boat ran aground at 11:40 p.m. on Monday about 1.1 nautical miles east of the marine park’s ranger station.

The Tubbataha Reef Management Office has yet to determine the damage caused by the vessel to the coral reefs.

The USS Guardian, which got stuck on another Tubbataha atoll on Jan. 17, was removed on March 30 after being dismantled piece by piece by a crane. On April 5, marine scientists reported that the warship damaged 2,345 square meters of corals, and computed the fine to be imposed on the US government at $1.4 million.

Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, the PCG commandant, said the Coast Guard would help re-float the stranded vessel, said to be based in Fujian, China.

The Coast Guard search-and-rescue vessel BRP Corregidor, docked at the pier behind the PCG headquarters in Manila, will leave shortly for the Tubbataha Reef to assist in the removal of the Chinese vessel.—With a report from  Norman Bordadora

Originally posted: 10:11 pm | Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

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