SOME 154 fishermen who were imprisoned in Indonesia for allegedly encroaching on territorial fishing boundaries were repatriated by officials of General Santos City over the weekend.
General Santos Mayor Ronnel Rivera said the fishermen were rescued from various prisons in the Indonesian provinces of Surong, Bitong, Ternate, and Rudenim.
Most of them were held captive for three months, while the rest have been detained for over a year after they were arrested by Indonesian coast guards for fishing beyond the Philippine maritime border.
The repatriated fishermen were subjected to a quarantine by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) before they were allowed to return to their respective families.
Rivera said the 154, now safe home with their families, were the recent batch of detained Filipino fishermen during the last three years who were rescued with the help of the family-owned RD Fishing Co., which has a base in Indonesia.
About 500 detained fishermen in Indonesia have been rescued and sent home by Rivera.
Not all fishermen, however, were from General Santos since most of them came from Sarangani, Davao del Sur and Surigao del Sur.
One of the repatriates, Joralde Maglasang, 29, of Barangay Fatima, said he was happy to be back with his family.
“Akala ko di na ako makakabalik ng Pilipinas. Mahirap masyado na malayo sa pamilya. Kahit tatlong buwan lang ako doon ay mapait talaga ‘yong naranasan ko. (I thought I would not be able to go back to the Philippines. It’s very hard to be away from family. I had a very sad experience even with my three months there),” Maglasang narrated.
Maglasang’s family was waiting for him when their boat docked at RDEX Compound in the village of Calumpang but were only able to hug him after they were cleared from quarantine.
“I know the risks and hardship these fishermen face whenever they are out at sea. I know this because I have experienced fishing. You put your life on the line there,” Rivera said.
“This is the least that I can do, most especially that times are changing. There are a lot of fishing bans that have pushed these fishermen to go beyond the boundaries,” he added.
Indonesia has recently passed new boundary restrictions before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which expanded their maritime territory to 200 nautical miles.
The arrested fishermen were unaware of this new boundary, assuming that their fishing grounds were still within Philippine waters.
Meanwhile, Rivera has appealed to the national government to take action on the expanded maritime territory of Indonesia, which is detrimental to small fishermen.
Rivera said Gensan will create alternative livelihood opportunities for the repatriated who no longer want to go back to fishing.