MANILA - Malacanang won't budge on the seizure of a Chinese fishing vessel and arrest of 11 Chinese fishermen found poaching off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands.
In a Palace briefing, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the action taken by the Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday in apprehending a foreign fishing vessel and a local fishing boat is accordance with its duty to enforce environment protection and wildlife conservation laws.
He said the action upholds Philippine sovereign rights over the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
He also said relevant authorities in Palawan will address this case in a just, humane and expeditious manner.
Coloma dispelled notions that the arrest was meant to provoke China. "It is in performance of its duty," he said.
Philippine officials confirmed Thursday they seized a Chinese fishing vessel off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands and arrested 11 fishermen after they found 350 marine turtles, said to be endangered species.
The incident occurred on Tuesday (May 6) when the Philippines intercepted the Chinese fishing boat.
"One local boat was caught and the foreign vessel was also apprehended because they were caught transferring from the small boat, to the foreign vessel, a certain number of endangered species," said Philippine Maritime Police chief Niel Vargas.
He told reporters at a news conference that they caught the vessel when it encountered engine trouble and was able to tow it ashore, along with a local fishing boat. The fishermen are now in custody of the Philippine authorities in Palawan island.
"We have started the investigation, so we have to identify first these apprehended foreigners and locals and then we will seek the help and participation of the committee of illegal entrants," Vargas said.
He also denied reports from China that the fishermen were being fired at during the encounter.
"That is their press statement. I do not know where they got their information, so as far as the PNP (Philippine National Police) side is concerned, we did not fire any shots," he said.
China on Wednesday said it had asked the Philippines to hand back the Chinese fishing boat and stop taking provocative actions in the disputed South China Sea.
A statement by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs defended the arrest and said it was upholding its "sovereign rights."
Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima said they were enforcing maritime law.
"This is their assertion, our assertion is, that is ours, so that is Philippine territory, that's why there's disputes, but we will do the process, and whatever we need to do, we will refer it to the committee on illegal entrants, and let the process take its course," he said.
China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. It also has a separate maritime dispute with Japan. With reports by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News, and Reuters