The government on Thursday said the police were just enforcing environmental laws and upholding the country’s sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) when they seized on Tuesday a Chinese fishing boat loaded with close to 500 turtles off Half Moon Shoal in contested waters of the South China Sea.
“It was in performance of its duty,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said of the move made by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Maritime Group, which also seized a local fishing boat.
“The action taken by the [PNP on Tuesday] in apprehending a foreign fishing vessel and a local fishing boat [was in]accordance with its duty to enforce environment protection and wildlife conservation laws while upholding Philippine sovereign rights over our [EEZ],” Coloma said in a news conference.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday confirmed that the Chinese fishing boat was caught carrying endangered marine species within Philippine waters.
This prompted the PNP Maritime Group to board the Chinese boat and arrest its 11 crew off the shoal located 100 kilometers from Palawan province.
Sea turtles are considered endemic and are protected under Philippine laws.
The captured boats were towed to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.
“As pointed out by the DFA, relevant authorities in Palawan will address this case in a just, humane and expeditious manner,” Coloma told reporters.
In compliance with Philippine laws and upon arrival of the apprehended vessels in Palawan’s capital Puerto Princesa City, he added, the PNP Special Boat Unit (SBU) will inform the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), through its executive director, for a coordinated action on the incident.
Under Republic Act 9147, the PCSD, in the exercise of its jurisdiction in the
conservation and protection of wildlife in the province, plays an active part in prosecution of cases for violation of the wildlife act.
The SBU will also inform the Palawan Council on Illegal Entrants about the seizure of the two boats. The head of the Western Command is the concurrent council chairman.
It will conduct interviews of the foreign crew on board the captured boats and inventory the vessels in the presence of the respective boat captains.
An inter-agency team composed of representatives from the Environment department, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Bureau of Customs will conduct the inventory of cargoes (wildlife or fish products). Disposition of the wildlife will be decided by a department representative.
Meanwhile, the custody of the apprehended foreign crew may be transferred to the PCIE or otherwise upon the decision of the court may be committed to a detention facility.
The apprehended vessel will be placed under the custody of the SBU while the case is pending.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd also defended the seizure of the Chinese fishing boat.
“The [police were]just doing their job. Their [Chinese] action was a violation of our laws and regulations. In fact, we initially didn’t know their nationality. But regardless of nationality, these are our shores so we’ll catch the violators,” Roxas told reporters.
The arrest of the Chinese poachers again increased tension between the Philippines and China both of which have overlapping claims to resource-rich areas in the South China Sea [West Philippine Sea].
Manila is claiming sovereignty over islands lying within its 200-nautical mile EEZ.
China is also claiming all islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), including those within the EEZs of the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, among other countries, by citing ancient Chinese maps.