Chinese embassy protests arrest of poachers in Tubbataha
- Pia Lee Brago () - December 29, 2006 - 12:00am
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has transmitted a note verbale to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) seeking the release of 30 Chinese poachers who were arrested last week at the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan.

Sources at the embassy said the diplomatic mission raised serious concern over the arrest and detention of the 30 Chinese fishermen and the fishing boat Hoi Wan which has been grounded. The fishing boat where live endangered fish species were found was allegedly intercepted by a team of the nongovernment organization (NGO) Tubbataha Management Foundation and not by appropriate Philippine authorities.

Authorities found 300 live Napoleon wrasses, an endangered species, on board the Hoi Wan.

"We were told by the owner of the vessel that an NGO apprehended and detained the vessel and the fishermen. I don’t know if an NGO can apprehend and detain a foreign vessel," the source told The STAR.

Sources said the embassy indicated in the diplomatic note to the DFA that the purpose of the Chinese fishermen was to do business in a market in Tawi-Tawi where they bought the endangered fish species, but the purchase was supported by legal documents like a certification from local authorities of the province.

"It’s quite different and complicated. The purpose of the fishermen was not fishing but to do business with the people of Tawi-Tawi. They got the license and certification from local authorities on their way back to Hong Kong when they were apprehended by the Tubbataha Management Foundation that is an NGO based on information we received," another source said.

They added that the embassy said in the diplomatic note that the Chinese would like to find proper ways to resolve the issue.

"We feel very frustrated. This time they came to the Philippines not for fishing but to do business with the people of Mindanao. If it is with approval of local authorities in Tawi-Tawi, we consider it legal. The owner has the clearance and legal documents," the source said.

The DFA together with concerned government agencies is verifying the information conveyed by the embassy in the note verbale.

Sources said the embassy gives great importance and understands the Philippines and NGOs in protecting the environment, a concern shared by the Chinese government.

In a related development, the inter-agency National Committee on Illegal Entrants (NCIE) met yesterday and discussed the case of the Chinese poachers.

Acting Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo Malaya said the investigation on the Hong Kong vessel Hoi Wan is currently being undertaken by concerned government agencies.

"The NCIE will submit their recommendation to appropriate authorities. We await result of the investigation by committee members specifically the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Philippine Coast Guard," Malaya said.

The NCIE, headed by the DFA, is composed of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), BFAR, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Coast Guard, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Immigration (BI), Bureau of Custom (BOC) and the Department of Finance (DOF).

Malaya said the filing of charges against the fishermen will be determined after the investigation.

Meanwhile, a Navy ship would escort the Chinese fishing boat from Tubbataha to Puerto Princesa, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, who ordered the deployment of a Naval vessel from the military’s Western Command after the BFAR patrol boat had to return to Puerto Princesa due to technical problems.

"The Department of Agriculture sought our assistance because the BFAR ship had to go back to Puerto Princesa," he said.

Esperon said the BRP Rizal would tow to Puerto Princesa the Chinese vessel, where the live wrasses were found.

Commander Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, Navy spokesman, said that BRP Rizal is on its way back to Puerto Princesa City from Patunga Island in Northern Palawan to refuel. It would proceed to Tubbataha today to escort the Chinese boat.

Lory Tan, president of the local World Wildlife Fund said the Navy vessel is expected at Puerto Princesa before midnight. After a two to three hour refueling stop, it will proceed to Tubbataha. 

Upon arrival at Puerto Princesa, the 30 Chinese fishermen would face charges that would be filed by the Tubbataha Management Foundation. — With James Mananghaya, Katherine Adraneda

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