No compromise in Tubbataha-Chinese vessel case
MANILA, Philippines - The government will pursue charges against 12 Chinese fishermen caught in a vessel that ran aground in Tubbataha, Malacañang said Saturday, April 20.
The 157-foot ship was removed from Tubbataha, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed coral reef, on Friday, April 19.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte noted that charges had already been filed against the Chinese fishermen. She said the government does not see any basis for a compromise. "We never compromise on the damages, those are mandated by law, and those are done and valued according to what the law dictates so we only follow the law," Valte said over dzRB.
Chinese officials based in Manila have reportedly been pushing for the release of the fishermen, who face charges of poaching and attempted bribery. Both of those charges carry maximum jail sentences of 12 years.
Prosecutors said the fishermen, who were arraigned Friday, tried to bribe Tubbataha rangers, offering them US$2,400 to be released.
Lawyers and various sectors in Palawan have complained about the fact that previously detained Chinese nationals caught poaching on Philippine waters were usually just deported, the charges against them eventually dropped.
The 12 Chinese fishermen have been in detention since sanctuary rangers on April 8 found their vessel jammed onto the Tubbataha Reef, roughly 1,600 kilometers from China's nearest major landmass.
Hundreds of dead pangolins or scaly anteaters - a protected species - were later discovered in their ship.
At a hearing in Puerto Princesa Friday, the men entered a plea of not guilty to the poaching charge, while their lawyer Alex Jagmiz asked for more time to prepare his case.
Serious charges are also being prepared over possession of the pangolins. - Rappler.com