Philippine authorities Thursday vowed to seek long jail terms for six Chinese caught poaching fish and sea turtles, as part of a crackdown against foreigners stealing local marine wildlife.
The head of a multiagency task force against illegal entrants, Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, said he planned to take a hardline stance against all foreign poachers, unlike previous officials who allowed them to be released.
“We will be pursuing the harshest penalty as demanded by law. We will be fighting for the conviction of these apprehended poachers,” Sabban told Agence France-Presse.
In previous cases of Chinese poachers caught in Philippine waters, the Chinese Embassy has successfully lobbied for the release of its nationals, much to the anger of local environmental groups.
But Sabban, who took over in August last year as head of the task force that includes the police and military, said he would push hard for the latest batch of Chinese poachers to be jailed.
“I don’t know what happened in previous cases but I would like to assure everybody that we will take action differently,” he said.
The Chinese fishermen were arrested off the western island of Palawan on March 24 with their catch of fish and sea turtles, said Chief Supt. Antonio Hicban, the regional police head.
The Chinese poachers are facing charges of illegal entry, illegal fishing and catching a protected species—the sea turtles—which could get them 12 to 20 years in jail, according to Hicban and Sabban.
The declaration of a stronger stance against the Chinese poachers came a day after China executed three Filipino drug couriers, despite appeals for mercy from senior Philippine officials.
Anger toward China has risen in the Philippines after the execution of the three Filipinos.
Sabban said the crackdown was not related to the execution of the three drug mules, but he compared the two cases, recalling that China had insisted that the Philippines respect its legal system under which the Filipinos were put to death.
Rule of law
“The Chinese ambassador said to us, we should understand the rule of law in their country. The same thing should be applied here. We are just following the law, the same way the Chinese ambassador told us,” he said.
Chinese Embassy spokesperson Sun Yi said consular officials would be sent to Palawan to see what action to take regarding the arrested fishermen.