PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—The Philippine government plans to let 12 suspected Chinese poachers arrested at Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in April with a cargo of endangered pangolins leave the country despite facing criminal charges.
The Inquirer has learned that the Bureau of Immigration (BI), in a memorandum to the Provincial Prosecution Office of Palawan, asked that the suspected poachers detained in the provincial jail here be turned over to the agency to face deportation proceedings.
The Chinese are expected to be allowed to post bail following their arraignment on charges of poaching, illegal possession of endangered wildlife and attempted bribery.
Provincial Prosecutor Allen Ross Rodriguez confirmed the Inquirer’s information, saying his office received the order from Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. and two other immigration officials on Tuesday.
Environmental lawyers collaborating in the prosecution of the suspected poachers said they would question the immigration bureau’s order.
“There is a case already pending in the courts and the national government cannot just deport the Chinese even if they want to please Beijing,” said lawyer Nesario Awat of the Palawan NGO Network.
Rodriguez said his group filed a motion for the issuance of a hold-departure order against the Chinese nationals at the same time that it filed the information in court.
The court, however, has yet to resolve the group’s motion.
Marine park rangers caught the suspected poachers when their boat ran aground on an atoll in the Tubbataha Reefs in early April.
An inspection of the vessel yielded a cargo of pangolin meat destined for China, where there is a big market for meat of exotic animals.
The pangolin, or anteater, is an endangered species protected by national and international laws.
If convicted, the 12 Chinese face 12 to 20 years in prison.
The grounding of the suspected poachers’ vessel damaged corals in the Tubbataha Reefs, a World Heritage Site in the middle of the Sulu Sea.
In January, the US Navy minesweeper Guardian ran aground on an atoll in Tubbataha, damaging nearly 3,000 square meters of corals in the protected marine park.
The warship had to be broken up and removed piece by piece to save the reef from further damage.
Originally posted at 05:45 pm | Wednesday, June 12, 2013