By Leonard Postrado
Nine Chinese fishermen charged before the Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court (RTC) for poaching in Half Moon Shoal, some 60 nautical miles from Palawan, will remain in jail, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Wednesday.
De Lima issued the clarification after it has been reported that President Benigno Aquino III said the country cannot imprison foreigners caught poaching in the said areas since imprisonment or corporal punishment is prohibited by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) where the Philippines is a signatory.
De Lima told reporters that the Philippines can still arrest and detain poachers subject to local laws and regulations.
“What the President meant is that imprisonment as a penalty is discouraged, if not prescribed, under UNCLOS. But the coastal State concerned, here the Philippines, pursuant to its own laws and processes, may still arrest and detain alleged violators of the law, subject to their right to post bail,” de Lima said in a text message sent to reporters.
On May 6, operatives of the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group Special Boat Unit based in Palawan intercepted and arrested 11 Chinese fishermen poaching off Half Moon Shoal (locally known as Hasa-Hasa Shoal) and seized more than 350 turtles, some of which are protected under Philippine laws.
Two of the arrested fishermen were later released and deported to China after the medical check-up showed that they were minors while the nine others were detained and charged before Branch 51 of the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court for violation of Republic Act (RA) 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation Act as well as RA 8550, specifically Section 97 for fishing or taking of rare, threatened or endangered species and Section 87 for poaching in our territorial waters.
They have pleaded not guilty to the charges during their arraignment last May 21.
The court set the pre-trial of their case on June 4.