By Ron B. Lopez
Nearly 21,000 online petitioners back the Philippine government’s prosecution of the Chinese fishermen arrested for poaching over 500 turtles in Hasa-Hasa Shoal in Palawan early this month.
The group Save Philippine Seas and environmental lawyers who started the petition over at Change.org said the government should stand its ground in protecting the marine biodiversity of the country, which is allegedly being exploited by Chinese boats poaching in the area.
At least 20,800 people have signed the petition of support as of Friday. They also applauded the Philippine National Police Maritime Group Special Boat Unit for seizing the Chinese fishing boat. At least 216 live critically endangered species Green of Sea and Hawks Bill turtles and 381 assorted dead turtles were found in the fishing boat.
Out of 11 arrested poachers, nine have been charged for violating the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The two others were minors and have been repatriated to China, Department of Foreign Affairs said.
The arrested poachers have declined to participate in the proceedings despite the assistance offered by the Public Attorney’s Office, insisting they were fishing in Chinese waters and violating no Philippine laws. Hasa-Hasa Shoal, which is about 60 nautical miles from Palawan, is among the territory claimed by China in the South China Sea.
In an interview with Manila Bulletin Online, environmental lawyer and Ramon Magsaysay Award laureate Antonio Oposa Jr. said the government should not offer bail to the arrested Chinese nationals “mainly because they do not recognize our justice system. This case could send strong message [to poachers\ that we don’t tolerate such activities.”
The Department of Justice has recommended P30,000 and P40,000 bail for the violation of two sections of the fisheries code.
Oposa, who won a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court over the cancellation of timber operation in 1993, stressed that they have witnessed several poaching cases where suspects ran away from the crime by paying bail.
He said this provision was seen by poachers as a “weakness” in the country’s judicial system, which prompted them to continue their activities. He said the Aquino administration should set an example to change the situation lest it frustrates the authorities who make the arrests.
Save Philippine Seas said the government should not allow the country to be “bullied by a neighborhood toughie,” referring to China which has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, over the rich waters of South China Sea.
“Small as we are, we must be ready to stand up to whoever dares to destroy our God-given wealth of marine resources, even if they are the most powerful country on earth.
Among the other lawyer-petitioners include Liza Osorio, Golly Ramos, and Hector Theodosius.