PH Navy eyes upgrade of station in Palawan

by Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jun 18 2011 07:52 AM | Updated as of Jun 22 2011 05:19 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Navy is mulling the possible upgrade of its naval station in Hulugan Bay in Palawan.

Speaking on ANC's "The Rundown," Commodore Edgardo Tamayo, chief of the Naval Forces West based in Palawan said, given its strategic and practical location, the area could be made the new base for the Navy's operations.

Navy officials recently visited Hulugan Bay to assess operations on the Western front.

New naval base?

"Hulugan is on the Western front, facing the Kalayaan Island groups or Spratlys. From the Reed Bank, that's only 450 nautical miles, 200 from Pag-asa. It's within our economic zone. You can save a lot if Hulugan will be a staging point or area of operation," Tamayo said.

"That could serve as headquarters for the naval forces because of the strategic value of it. That would be good for the Navy and Palawan. On the Western front, there is a strong need for naval presence," he added.

The plan comes amid growing tension over the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Stiffer penalties for poachers

Meantime, Tamayo believes that there should be stiffer penalties for those caught poaching in Philippine waters, as penalties under the current Fisheries Code are not enough.

"There is an urgent need to amend Republic Act 8550, the Fisheries Code of 1998 to make poaching and violation of Section 87 of Republic Act (R.A.) 9147, The Wildlife Resources and Protection Act of 2001, a non-bailable offense, and to increase the fines for these violations. The penalty under the provision Section 97 of R.A. 8550 (taking or gathering of endangered species) is $100,000 to make it $500,000 to make it a deterrent."

On Thursday, Tamayo said they received an order from the provincial prosecutor to commit to jail the 122 Vietnamese who were earlier apprehended for poaching in the waters off Palawan. A medical check-up was scheduled on Friday as part of standard operating procedure.

The Vietnamese poachers were placed in the custody of the Navy immediately after apprehension. They are awaiting inquest proceedings. The fiscal's office is expected to rule Friday if there is probable cause to file a case against them.

"The 122 of them will have to face the fiscal. While waiting, we have no facility wherein these alleged poachers can be placed. They were placed in our custody on both ships."

In March this year, the Navy Forces West, together with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Philippine National Police Maritime, and the local government of Balaoac, apprehended 6 alleged Chinese poachers. The 6 were committed to jail after the filing of charges.

The Navy admitted it is making do with limited resources for their maritime operations. These include 10 floating assets, counting in 3 which, Tamayo said, are committed to Task Force Malampaya in El Nido, Palawan.