MANILA – China is asking the Philippines to ensure the humane treatment of 12 Chinese fishermen who were found guilty of illegal fishing and entry.
Twelve fishermen whose vessel ran aground in Tubbataha Reef last year were found guilty of illegal fishing and entry by a local court in Palawan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said the Philippines should be impartial in handling the case and ensure the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese fishermen.
''The Foreign Ministry and Chinese diplomatic missions in the Philippines will continue to provide consular assistance within their remit to the Chinese fishermen and request the Philippine side to guarantee their legitimate rights and interests,'' Hua said.
''Meanwhile, we hope that Chinese fishermen working at the sea can abide by laws and carry out normal fishery production."
The vessel's eleven crew members could face up to 10 years in prison, while the captain was meted with a penalty of 12 years imprisonment. They are also required to pay a fine of $100,000 each.
The Chinese nationals were apprehended in Tubbataha last April 2013 after their vessel ran aground in the protected marine area. Boxes of pangolin carcasses were later discovered in their boat.
The Public Attorney's Office, which represents the Chinese fishermen, said it will appeal the conviction. It argued that the Chinese did not intend to go to Tubbataha but was only forced by bad weather.
The Chinese nationals are also facing bribery charges for allegedly trying to give $2,400 to the park rangers who spotted them.
The grounding of the vessel came as the Philippines and China are locked in a bitter dispute over competing territorial claims to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters approaching the coasts of the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia.
However, Tubbataha Reef is in the Sulu Sea, which is well within the Philippines' territory and is not being claimed by China. Sulu Sea is separated from the South China Sea by the island of Palawan.