Press Release
January 5, 2007


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today warned the Arroyo government against somersaulting from its position to pursue charges against 30 Chinese fishermen caught poaching on the Tubbataha Marine Park and for incursion into the countrys territorial waters.

Pimentel said the government is under tremendous pressure from China to release the arrested fishermen before the arrival next week of Premier Wen Jiabao to attend the leaders summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cebu.

He said it would take more than an assurance from Malacañang the government will prosecute the Chinese fishermen according to the countrys fishery and criminal laws to allay the public apprehensions that it will not succumb to pressure from Beijing.

The people, he said, are skeptical about the Arroyo governments handling of this case after it allowed the transfer of American Marine Cpl. Daniel Smith from the Makati City jail to the United States embassy despite his conviction for rape by a local court in blatant disregard for the countrys judicial process.

If the poachers were arrested within our waters, China should respect our processes. It wont help Chinas image regionally or even internationally if it is seen as bullying a small country like ours, Pimentel said.

That said, we should stand our ground if our authorities indeed caught the poachers inside our domestic seas. If not, then they should be released.

The Chinese fishermen were apprehended by Tubbataha park rangers and Navy personnel while their vessel Hoi Wan, was cruising within the marine sanctuary on Dec. 21. The boat was found carrying live fish, including varieties that are endangered and covered by a fishing ban.

Pimentel stressed that the accusation against the Chinese fishermen of having violated the countrys fishery law and encroached on the countrys waters should be thoroughly investigated in the face of the claim by the Chinese embassy that they were there to conduct normal business by buying the fish catch from Filipino fishermen.

Otherwise, he warned that there will be public furor if the government will release the fishermen without legal justification and with the intention of placating Beijing and avoiding a diplomatic feud.

He said accommodating the Chinese demand to avert a diplomatic row should not be made at the expense of the national sovereignty.

Pimentel said it could not be denied that China has the means to flex its diplomatic muscles to compel the Arroyo government to bow to its demand in the same way that it was arm-twisted into freeing Smith from jail after the US unilaterally cancelled the Balikatan military exercises as a reprisal for a purported breach of the Visiting Forces Agreement allegedly committed by the Philippines.

The minority leader noted that the Arroyo government has been courting more Chinese investments especially in the power and other sectors of the economy after persuading Beijing to invest in mining enterprises and in granting a $400 million loan for the North Rail Project in Luzon.

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