300 boats of foreign poachers spotted daily in Kalayaan Island Group
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 2, 2015 - 12:00am

PAG-ASA ISLAND, Palawa, Philippinesn – More than 300 boats carrying foreign poachers can be seen every day in the Kalayaan Island Group but could not be arrested by government forces due to lack of equipment, officials said.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said poachers from countries like China, Vietnam and Malaysia outnumber local fishermen in their area, which is part of the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

“It’s more than 300 boats per day… Since we are claiming Kalayaan to be ours, all of them are (considered) poachers because they did not secure a mayor’s permit and they are not registered in the Philippines,” Bito-onon said in a recent interview.

“We are missing so much of the resources of the Kalayaan Island. One study said we are losing about P18 billion worth of marine products per year,” he added.

Bito-onon explained that since the Philippines has a lot of internal waters, many fishermen do not see the need to venture into the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“In Vietnam, the coastline is long. The same is true with China so their tendency is to go further,” he said, referring to foreign fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

“The ones who benefit (from the marine resources) are poachers,” he added.

Bito-onon said some poachers even use dynamite, smuggle endangered turtles and harvest and destroy clams.

“If the destruction of the environment continues, the marine resources will run out,” he said.

When asked why security forces aren’t arresting the poachers, Bito-onon said, “You are inviting miscalculation.”

The mayor explained that China and Vietnam have strong mobile phone signals here that would allow arrested poachers to ask help from their respective countries.

“We can’t even do something in Scarborough (Shoal),” Bito-onon said.

The Scarborough Shoal, known locally as Panatag Shoal, is located only 124 nautical miles from its nearest point in Zambales.

Chinese ships started occupying the area in 2012 after the Philippine Navy tried to arrest Chinese poachers who had harvested endangered marine species. China has since barred local fishermen from entering what was once considered a traditional fishing route.

Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez admitted that the lack of naval assets prevents them from enforcing the country’s laws against poaching.

“It is unfortunate that while we are monitoring these poachers and the degradation of our marine resources, we simply do not have the resources to monitor them on a 24-hour basis,” Lopez said.

“Since they are at sea, we need to have water assets. But we have some resource constraints. How I wish we will have more of those so we can perform our mandate,” he added.

Kalayaan is a fifth-class municipality in Palawan. It is located in Pag-Asa, the biggest Philippine island in the Spratlys archipelago, which is also being claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

ARMED FORCES WESTERN COMMAND CHINA AND VIETNAM HOW I IN VIETNAM KALAYAAN KALAYAAN ISLAND KALAYAAN ISLAND GROUP KALAYAAN MAYOR EUGENIO BITO POACHERS WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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