Arrested Vietnamese poachers, aboard seven fishing vessels, off the waters of Palawan province last Monday reportedly hoisted Philippine Flags to their boats, apparently to avoid being monitored as intruders by government security forces patrolling the area.
A total of 122 Vietnamese fishermen are now under custody of the Balabac Municipal Police Station (MPS) in Palawan after Navy sea borne patrol, led by Maj. Ferdinand Atos of the Naval Station Balabac, caught them within the country’s territorial waters off Balabac.
Aboard F/V Z-M 001, 0002, 003, 004, 005, 006 and 007, the Vietnamese were reportedly caught hoisting Philippine Flags while fishing.
Western Command (Wescom) spokesman Maj. Niel Estrella said that the Navy troops initially inquired for identification from the Vietnamese but could not answer back.
“The encroaching Vietnamese vessels were found to be flying Philippine flags but when our sea borne patrol approached for verification and identification purposes, the crew members could not speak Tagalog,” Estrella said.
The Navy operatives, along with members of the Balabac MPS, subsequently apprehended the Vietnamese and brought them to the local police headquarters.
The latest intrusion in the country’s territorial waters off Palawan province happened while Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. were visiting Wescom.
Gazmin’s short visit to Wescom was prompted by recent reports of intrusion by unidentified jet fighters within Philippine-occupied territories at the disputed Spratly group of islands on South China Sea.
The Defense chief instructed AFP troops to remain vigilant in conducting air and sea patrol along the country’s territorial waters.
Gazmin’s visit also came after the visit of Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie amid tension brought about by the reported buzzing of alleged Chinese MIG-29 jetfighters against Philippine Air Force OV-10 Broncos. The Chinese official denied having MIG29s in their inventory.
Only last March, two Chinese patrol boats harassed a Department of Energy exploration vessel at the Philippine-occupied Reed Bank on the disputed Spratlys on South China Sea, which are being claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.