MANILA, Philippines – As the verbal tussle between the Philippine government and China heats up over a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea, the Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered on Friday the refiling of criminal charges against 7 Chinese nationals for alleged poaching and illegal fishing off the waters of Palawan.
The DOJ, in a 4-page resolution signed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, granted a Motion for Reconsideration (MR) filed by the Palawan Provincial Prosecutor, effectively reversing the junking of charges and withdrawal of information against respondents ordered by de Lima's predecessor, Alberto Agra.
The resolution directed the refiling of charges in court against respondents Huang Pu, Ho Ta, Dy Song, Seng Fa, Hu Yung, Lin Shing and Ho Sy for violations of Republic Act (RA) 8550, otherwise known as the "Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998," and RA 9147, also known as the "Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act."
Respondents were caught poaching near the disputed Spratly Islands in May 2010.
In an earlier resolution dated June 29, 2010, the DOJ thumbed down the Palawan Provincial Prosecutor's finding of probable cause against respondents as it resolved that respondents "have no criminal intent to commit (a) violation of Section 87 of RA No. 8550 when they were navigating in Philippine waters," and ordered the withdrawal of any information that may have been filed against respondents.
In granting the MR, the DOJ said the act alone was sufficient to warrant the filing of charges against respondents in court.
"RA No. 8550 is a special law. It is well-settled in our criminal law that in those crimes punishable by special laws, the act alone, irrespective of the motive, constitutes the offense," the resolution read.
"Fishing inside Philippine waters is not immoral or illicit in itself and, therefore, not mala in se. However, it becomes illegal when it transgresses special laws and prohibitions set by the government. Violations of fisheries and wildlife laws are acts which are prohibited for reasons of public policy and are penalized by special statutory laws," the resolution read.
It has yet to be determined if respondents are still in the Philippines. They were able to post bail prior to the withdrawal of the first information, and failed to appear in the scheduled arraignment last November.