MANILA, Philippines - Navy authorities on Thursday vowed to seek long jail terms for six Chinese caught poaching fish and sea turtles, as part of a crackdown against foreigners stealing marine wildlife.
The head of a multi-agency taskforce against illegal entrants, Brigadier General 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 AFP.
In previous cases of Chinese fishermen caught illegally in Philippine waters, the Chinese embassy often 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 taskforce that includes the police and military, said he would push hard for the latest batch of nabbed Chinese 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, regional police head Chief Superintendent Antonio Hicban said.
They face charges of illegal entry, illegal fishing and catching a protected species -- the sea turtles-- which could get them 12 to 20 years in jail, said Hicban and Sabban.
The declaration of a stronger stance against the Chinese suspects came a day after China executed three Filipino drug traffickers, despite appeals for mercy from senior Philippine officials.
Anger towards China has risen in the Philippines after the execution of the three Filipino drug couriers.
Sabban said the crackdown was not related to the execution of the three but compared the two cases, recalling that China had insisted the Philippines respect its legal system under which the Filipinos were put to death.
"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 spokesman Sun Yi said consular officials would be sent to Palawan to see what action to take regarding the arrested fishermen.