Press Release
January 26, 2007


Senate committee on environment and natural resources chairperson Senator Pia S. Cayetano today expressed serious concern and dismay over the Department of Justice's (DOJ) order dismissing the charges against the 24 Chinese fishermen caught allegedly poaching in Palawan waters last October.

Cayetano expressed strong disappointment over the order, saying it would send the wrong signal "that the Philippine government tolerates shameless violations of the country's sovereignty and the plunder of its already depleted marine resources by foreign poachers."

She expressed fear that the development would set a dangerous precedent for future cases, particularly the pending court case against 30 Chinese fishermen arrested in the Tubbataha Reefs last December and who are now all out on bail.

"The justice department's order is disturbing, and it turns back the campaign against foreign poaching in Philippine waters," she stressed. "It's like a slap on the face of other government agencies, environmental groups, Filipino fisherfolk and other concerned citizens who have been vigilantly guarding our marine resources and who have been working hard to apprehend foreign poachers and have them prosecuted and punished under our laws."

"It also adds to the government's shameful history in prosecuting foreign poachers," she adds, noting that none of the foreign poachers caught in recent years has ever been punished.

Cayetano is pushing for the passage of Senate Bill No.2533 ["An Act Establishing the Tubbataha Reefs Marine National Park located in the Province of Palawan as a natural park under the NIPAS Act (RA 7586) and SEP Law (RA 7611), providing for its management and for other purposes"].

The senator plans to incorporate strong measures against foreign poaching in the bill which is currently on second reading.

Among the provisions she is considering in her committee amendments are: (1) the automatic issuance by the courts of a hold departure order as a condition for the grant of bail to any foreigner caught fishing or operating a fishing vessel within Tubbataha; (2) immediate confiscation of the poachers' vessel and fishing equipment which will be turned over to the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO); and (3) greater participation of Palaweos in managing the reefs by appointing the head of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) as co-chair of the Tubbataha Management Board.

Under the measure, convicted foreign violators would face up to $500,000 in penalties and a prison term ranging from 6-12 years--on top of an administrative fine to the TMO ranging from US$50,000 to $200,000.

"More than ever, I urge my colleagues to immediately pass Senate Bill 2533 before the adjournment of session, and I hope that the President signs it immediately as well," she concluded.

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