Chinese jailed for Tubbataha damage allowed bail
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan - The Chinese nationals involved in the grounding of a fishing vessel in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in April may post bail.
The Palawan Regional Trial Court granted the petition of the 12 Chinese nationals to post bail, but also doubled the amount recommended by the Provincial Prosecutors' Office.
Each of the Chinese nationals must pay P240,000 instead of the original amount of P120,000, according to the order released by RTC Branch 51 Judge Ambrosio de Luna on August 19.
Detained at the Palawan provincial jail, the foreign nationals are facing charges for illegally entering the Tubbataha marine protected area and for poaching. They are also set to be arraigned for additional cases including illegal entry and violation of the Philippine Wildlife Act.
The Chinese vessel grounding happened only 4 months after US Navy ship USS Guardian rammed into Tubbataha Reef and stayed there for more than 10 weeks before it was completely dismantled.
Lawyer Richalex Jagmis, counsel for the Chinese suspects, said he has not been informed by his clients if they are prepared to post bail amounting to a total of P2.8 million.
"I don't know yet what will be the action of my clients," Jagmis said in a local radio interview.
The Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), a volunteer group assisting the Tubbataha Management Office said the ruling also did not allow the Chinese to leave Puerto Princesa City while they are facing the charges in court.
"They are not allowed to leave town even if they post bail," said lawyer Grizelda Mayo Anda of ELAC.
Tubbataha Park Superintendent Angelique Songco told Rappler in a text message, "We are glad that the court increased the amount of bail as a countermeasure for the potential flight of the accused. This is so much better than how these cases were handled in the past but surely not fail-safe."
She emphasized that the Chinese nationals must pay the P95 million fine for the 3,902 square meters of damage to the reef, 66% more than the damage by USS Guardian.
Tubbataha Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous diving sites in the world boasting 188 threatened and near-threatened marine species, over 600 species of fish, 80 genera of corals, 7 threatened shark species and more. - With reports from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com