MANILA - Over 18,000 people so far have signed an online petition seeking the prosecution of the Chinese poachers caught off the Hasa-hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.
Environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr., one of the authors of the petition on Change.org, said the Philippine government should withhold bail for the Chinese poachers because of their refusal to recognize Philippine jurisdiction.
The poachers killed hundreds of endangered marine turtles in waters off Palawan, police said. They also pierced the eyes of many so they could thread ties to prevent them from escaping.
Oposa, who won the landmark 2010 Supreme Court "Writ of Kalikasan" decision, welcomed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's statement on Monday that the trial of the Chinese poachers will proceed even if they refuse to participate in the proceedings and insist that they were fishing in Chinese waters.
But he said the poachers must be kept behind bars until resolution of the criminal charges filed against them.
According to the petitioners, the government must stop giving poachers a free pass -- deportation, which was a traditional practice in the past administration.
"This has been taken as a sign of weakness by the foreign nationals who continue to intrude into our territorial waters and capture endangered species," they said. "That time is over."
They said they are standing by the government of President Benigno Aquino III "in this battle to uphold the country's right to protected our Philippine Seas."
The petition also lauds the Philippine National Police Maritime Group Special Boat Unit for seizing the Chinese fishing boat and its crew.