Sea turtles freed; Chinese fishermen held
MANILA, Philippines—After rejecting China’s demand that its nationals be released, the Philippine National Police brought criminal charges against 11 Chinese fishermen caught poaching more than 500 marine turtles in the disputed West Philippine Sea off Palawan province and freed the turtles.
In a report submitted to Camp Crame, the PNP Maritime Group said it also filed charges against five Filipinos who allegedly sold sea turtles to the Chinese poachers.
The maritime police said 555 sea turtles were recovered from the Chinese fishermen’s boat, but more than 300 of them were already dead.
It said 177 of the sea turtles were alive and were freed after an inventory conducted by officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
That could present a problem in the prosecution of the Chinese fishermen, as the turtles are required to be presented as evidence at the inquest.
Also recovered from the Chinese fishing vessel were 93 dead turtles, 207 stuffed turtles, two dried turtles and 76 pieces of turtle carapace.
The Chinese and Filipino fishermen were charged on Friday for poaching and taking endangered species as stated in Sections 85 and 87 of Republic Act No. 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.
The cases were docketed as NPS No. IV-08-INQ-14E-0060 and NPS No. IV-08-INQ-14C-0059 at the prosecutor’s office in Puerto Princesa City.
The arrested Chinese fishermen were identified as Yi Quan Chen (the boat’s skipper), Ze Hap Chen, Sheng Bao He, Liang Duong Shi, Chuan Fang Lu, Xian Xiong Shi, Xiang Hui Li, Yuan Cheng He, Ji Xuan Huang, Chun He and Zhuang He.
The cases, however, were bailable offenses. The Department of Justice set P80,000 bail for each of the two offenses.
The Bureau of Immigration will file charges against the Chinese fishermen today.
Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, head of the justice department’s National Prosecution Service, said the Chinese fishermen would undergo inquest proceedings Monday in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.
“The PNP brought the Chinese poachers last Friday for inquest, but they had no lawyer and interpreter. So the prosecutor asked them to come back on Monday. But the case is already docketed for inquest,” Arellano said.
He said the Chinese fishermen refused to be represented by public attorneys.
The investigating prosecutor, Allen Ross Rodriguez, required the PNP to present the evidence seized from the Chinese fishermen, including their boat and the sea turtles.
Rodriguez was apparently unaware that the live sea turtles had been freed.
It was unclear whether the dead and stuffed turtles and the carapaces would do.
The Chinese fishermen’s boat will be inventoried by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, composed of representatives from the local governments, the agriculture and environment departments, and the National Economic and Development Authority.
Malacañang said earlier the government would proceed to bring charges against the Chinese fishermen despite China’s demand that they be released.
Just obeying the law
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas on Sunday expressed support for the maritime policemen who arrested the Chinese poachers near Hasa-Hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal), said to be a breeding ground of marine turtles off Balabac town, Palawan, on May 6.
Asked to comment on Beijing’s statement that the arrest of the Chinese fishermen was a provocative action, he said: “What I can say is that it was a normal routine patrol.”
“We are just following the law …. The area was just [90 kilometers] away from Philippine soil. How can that be provocative?” Roxas added.
The Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, called West Philippine Sea, extends up to 370 km from the nearest coastal area of the country.
Roxas insisted that the PNP was just implementing the country’s law on the protection of the environment when it seized the Chinese boat and arrested its crew members.
“It’s also in accordance with an international treaty on the protection of endangered species, of which both the Philippines and China are signatories,” he said.
Roxas said it was unfortunate that some local fishermen had resorted to poaching as a means of livelihood, noting that the five Filipinos who were caught transferring the turtles to the Chinese fishing boat were all residents of Palawan.
Environment and military sources in Palawan said local fishermen were selling sea turtles to Chinese fishermen at P15,000 to P30,000 each.
“I just wish they stop poaching sea turtles or other endangered species. The issue here is not that they sold the turtles to the Chinese. The real issue is that they were catching and selling endangered species,” he said.
“We have no other choice but to respect the law and file the appropriate charges against them,” he said.
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