Espionage not an issue in Tubbataha, says Palace
MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang quelled concerns that the Chinese vessel grounded in Tubbataha could indicate a case of espionage in relation to the territorial dispute between both countries.
Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said Thursday, April 11, that authorities are treating the incident "the way it looks."
"The way it looks is it’s a Chinese fishing vessel not government-owned, and that they ran aground by accident. At this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise. Unless we get an indication that there’s something more to it, then we will leave it at that with the current actions that we have taken," Carandang said.
The 12 Chinese poachers on board F/V Min Long Yu with 63168 are facing charges of poaching, illegal entry and attempted bribery. They are presently detained in Puerto Princesa City.
Unlike the earlier incident involving the USS Guardian -- where the US Navy was only asked to pay P58-M in fines, the Chinese nationals could face imprisonment of between 6-12 years and fines of between P100,000 to $100,000.
This has sparked criticism that the government has been quicker to act against the Chinese poachers, compared to how it treated the American navy crew.
Two separate incidents
Carandang said the accusations are "untrue" and "unfair" since the two incidents happened in "completely different circumstances."
"First of all, those are two separate incidents. They are not apples to apples. One is a military ship of an allied country who is here with our permission, involved in our mutual defense; the other is a private fishing vessel, which was here without permission, which was here for commercial reasons," he said.
Under the Tubbataha Act, commercial fishers found to be in violation of Section 19 (Unauthorized entry, enjoyment or use of the Tubbataha reef) face stiffer penalties than regular entities -- an imprisonment of between one year to 3 years and a fine of P500,000.
Section 26 of RA 10067 states that anyone who fishes or gathers corals shall face imprisonment of between 6 years and 1 day to 12 years and a fine of between P100,000 to P250,000, plus an additional administrative fine of P100,000 to P250,000.
Section 27 stipulates even heavier penalties if the individuals or group caught poaching are foreigners. If found guilty, the Chinese fishers could face imprisonment of between 6 years and 1 day to 12 years and a fine of $100,000. The offender's catch, fishing equipment and fishing vessel will also be confiscated.
Aquino has instructed authorities to investigate the incident, as well as assess how such accidents could be prevented in the future.
"The goal is to find out what happened; number two, to seek some sort of reparations for the damages that admittedly were incurred. Nobody believes that this was done on purpose so, let’s… So our idea is if something happens then, there are certain processes in place that would ensure or that would provide for the resolution or the reparation in the event of this incident. So that’s all we’re trying to do," Carandang said.
A team composed of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation and Communications are working at salvaging the Chinese vessel by re-floating it so that it may be taken to Puerto Princesa for proper disposal. - with reports from Angela Casauay/Rappler.com