Philippines: Akbayan slams Chinese incursion into Tubbataha Reef

Akbayan Party-list today slammed the incursion of a Chinese fishing vessel into the Tubbataha reef, which the group said is engaged in "state-led" poaching activities at the marine protected area in Palawan.

It was reported that the vessel ran aground some 1.1 nautical miles east of the Tubbataha Reef ranger station. It was reported that the fishing vessel had 12 crew members, allegedly Chinese poachers.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this brazen infringement of our territory in order to conduct marine poaching. The act is a blatant breach and disregard of our sovereignty, and outright ransack of our marine life," Akbayan Representative Walden Bello said.

Bello said the Philippine government should act swiftly on this recent incident to ensure that Chinese vessels will not trespass other parts of the country's territorial waters.

"What's next, illegal Chinese vessels entering the Visayan, Sibuyan seas or even the Philippine Sea on our eastern coasts? Our government must exhaust its resources to put an end to these incursions with the aim to conduct poaching activities within our waters," according to Bello.

Domino effect

Akbayan blamed the Chinese government's occupation of the Spratlys and the Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea for creating a "domino effect" resulting in the recent grounding of a Chinese fishing vessel into the Tubbataha Reef.

"This is more than just a simple law enforcement issue. This incident should be seen in the context of the territorial dispute between China and other Southeast Asian nations like the Philippines. Because of the Chinese government's bullying, it's not farfetched to think that Chinese poachers with the urging of their government have been emboldened to conduct such daring activities," Bello said.

Akbayan also called for strong regional pressure against China to complement ongoing arbitration processes being availed by the Philippine government to end the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

"We have to exhaust all means to come to a peaceful resolution. While there is wisdom in using the remedies provided by international law, we also have to muster the necessary regional cooperation to confront the bullying tactics being employed by China," Bello urged.

Protect Tubbataha and other protected marine reserves

Akbayan also raised concerns that other marine reserves and areas with relatively healthy marine ecosystems would not fare so well as the Tubbataha Reef if poaching activities would persist.

"First things first, we have to increase the security measures in place to safeguard the Tubbataha Reef and likewise extend these to other marine protected areas," Bello said.

"Our previous experience with the grounding of the US Navy's USS Guardian in Tubbataha and this current incident with the Chinese fishing vessel should serve as an impetus for government to secure the waters within our archipelago," Bello added.

Make an example of USS Guardian

Moreover, Bello challenged the government to swiftly and judiciously settle the recent grounding incident involving the USS Guardian to buttress its position vis-à-vis China by making the responsible parties accountable.

"Such incidents of illegal entry and incursions into our territorial waters will continue unless we make an example of the USS Guardian. A regional super power like China will have little reason to respect our marine laws if we are soft in enforcing them against other superpowers like the United States," Bello concluded.

Only a few months after a US minesweeper hit the protected Tubbataha reef park, another vessel ran aground the Unesco World Heritage site almost midnight Sunday, April 8. A report from Tubbataha parks superintendent Angelique Songco said the Chinese fishing vessel with hull number 63168 ran aground some 1.1 nautical miles east of the Tubbataha Reef ranger station. The fishing vessel had 12 crew members, allegedly Chinese poachers.

Kick out Chinese officials who sought to free poachers

"Kick them out."

This was the statement of Akbayan Party-list after two ranking officials from the Chinese Embassy negotiated for the immediate release of the 12 poachers manning the Chinese fishing vessel which ran aground in Tubbataha Reef.

Akbayan Representative Walden Bello called on the Aquino administration to declare them "persona non grata" and expel them from the country.

"First these poachers illegally entered Tubbataha to plunder our marine resources and then they attempted to bribe our officials. Ngayon, sa pangunguna ng kanilang Consul General, tinangka nilang baluktutin ang batas at isalba ang kanilang mga poachers mula sa kalaboso," according to Bello.

"This is an outright disrespect of our laws and disregard of our sovereignty. Dapat lang na ideklara ng gobyerno itong mga Chinese officials na persona non grata at palayasin sa bansa," Bello added.

Chinese disregard of foreign and local laws

Bello who is also a well respected geo-political analyst called the actions of the Chinese officials as a reflection of the Chinese government's disrespect for established laws.

"This is how they practically treat sovereign nations such as the Philippines. Now we see it in this case of their intrusion in Tubbataha. They want the easy way out without being held accountable for their actions," according to Bello.

"Just like how they opposed any form of arbitration between the Philippines and China over the issue of the West Philippine Sea, they also do not want their nationals subjected to proper legal proceedings to hold them accountable for their crimes," Bello added.

No to deportation of Chinese poachers, punish them under full extent of the law

Akbayan also urged the Aquino administration to be resolute in holding the Chinese poachers accountable to Philippine laws and dismiss any requests from the Chinese government to have the 12 poachers deported back to China.

"We must make an example of these poachers. The government must reject the appeals of the Chinese government to send home their poachers. They must be punished under the fullest extent of Philippine law. There should be no mercy for violators of our sovereignty and environmental terrorists," according to Bello.

"Kung sila nga hindi nila pinakitaan ng awa ang mga kababayan nating di-umano'y lumabag sa kanilang batas, bakit natin sila bibigyan ng 'preferential treatment'? Bakit natin bibigyan ng special treatment ang kanilang mga poachers na bumabastos sa ating teritoryo at nagnanakaw ng ating yamang dagat?" Bello said.

Chinese Consul General Shen Zicheng and Third Secretary Li Jian arrived in Puerto Princesa, Palawan last Tuesday, April 9 seeking the immediate release of 12 Chinese fishermen from the Chinese fishing vessel Ming Long Yu which ran aground on Tubbataha Reef.

The Tubbataha Management Office proceeded to file bribery charges against the 12 Chinese fishermen, who were arraigned in a court here on Wednesday on charges of poaching.

An official at the military's Western Command (Wescom) said the two Chinese officials tried to convince local defense authorities in a meeting on Wednesday to pardon the fishermen because their presence in Tubbataha, a protected marine sanctuary, was "unintentional."

Akbayan praised the local authorities and the officials of the Tubbataha Management Office for refusing to acquiesce to the requests of the Chinese officials.

"We have to commend them for their steadfast defense of our country's interests. I think it is only proper that we help them in their mandate to defend our remaining marine resources by providing the needed government support," Bello said.