“It is like telling fishing capitalists all over the world that the country’s territorial waters are open for exploitation as long as they maintain diplomatic relationships with Malacañang.” – Pamalakaya
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Pambansang Lakas ng Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) is protesting against the decision of a Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa in Palawan to allow the Vietnamese government to recover seven modern commercial fishing vessels that the RTC Branch 51 previously ordered seized.
The RTC in August had the seven ships seized and the group operating them were tried and convicted for poaching. They were fined $700,000, and 122 Vietnamese nationals operating the vessels were also arrested. The fishing vessels were reportedly equipped with the latest, high-end navigational and communications equipment. The Vietnamese, however, pleaded for deportation without paying the fines; and they were allowed to forego paying a P6.1 million ($141 thousand) fine for illegal entry charged by the Bureau of Immigration.
According to reports, Malacañang released a “deed of conveyance” last week, which was signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Vietnamese Ambassador Nguyen Vu Tu. A “donation” was reportedly being made by the Philippine government “in consideration of the close cordial diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Vietnam.” The “donation,” it turns out, was the seven fishing vessels. The deed of conveyance, which described the Philippine government as “donor” and the Vietnamese government as “donee,” was signed on Oct. 25.
Malacañang sent the agreement to the provincial government of Palawan and to the Armed Forces’ Western Command (Wescom), both units were previously in charge of the vessels after the conviction and release of 122 Vietnamese poachers the Wescom caught on May 31.
Malacañang’s decision did not sit well with capitol officials, while the Wescom expressed grudging acceptance of the order.
Palawan Governor Abraham Kahlil Mitra, in an interview with media, said the provincial government had not even taken custody of the vessels when Malacañang allowed Vietnam to recover the seized ships.
Irresponsible diplomatic escapade
Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap called Malacañang’s moves “a poor and irresponsible diplomatic escapade” that will serve to encourage more foreign poachers to come to the Philippines to invade the country’s territorial waters. He said Malacañang’s action will set a precedent that will allow foreign and illegal fishing vessels to invoke diplomatic relations with the Manila government if and when caught by local authorities for violating the country’s patrimony and national sovereignty.
“It is like telling fishing capitalists all over the world that the country’s territorial waters are open for exploitation as long as they maintain diplomatic relationships with Malacañang,” he said.
The fisherfolk leader said the country’s waters have been opened by the previous regimes and even the present administration for foreign fishing exploitation. He said foreign fishing nationals of Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia had been poaching in the country’s fishing waters since the time of the late president Ferdinand Marcos.
He went to note that big tuna fishers from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea were seen from January to July two years ago catching tuna in Aurora fishing waters, which is part of the Pacific Ocean. He said poachers in Palawan are regular fishing guests of the Philippine government. He added that poachers are even “welcome” in the Spratlys group of islands which remains under dispute.
“That document signed by Executive Secretary Ochoa is tantamount to treason. We demand that the President nullify the deed of conveyance and instead pursue appropriate charges against owners of the seven commercial fishing boats. As to the 122 Vietnamese fish workers who are exploited and also victims here, it’s best that they be sent home, but be given warnings that they should no longer poach in Philippine waters,” he said.
Aquino proving subservience to US
In a related development, Pamalakaya also reacted to the statements President Aquino made regarding the rich oil and gas deposits in the Spratlys island.
When asked during the business conference of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Honolulu, Hawaii about the current dispute over the group of islands, Aquino said there are substantial gas deposits—so enormous that they “dwarf” the Malampaya oil fields off Palawan.
Aquino went on to announce that by next year, a US firm would start operations in the gas-rich territory. The Chief Executive made the sales pitch on Spratlys oil and gas deposits at a session on commodity security at the APEC CEO Summit, in which he was asked what his administration was doing to address the high cost of electricity in the Philippines.
“This is highly despicable and an open invitation to plunder and war. The President is merely telling the people of the world that he would do practically everything, anything to please Washington D.C and the oil exploration giant-clients of theBarack Obama administration.” Hicap said.
The activist leader posited that the statement of the president will foment further tensions and more diplomatic rows in the Spratlys. He said Aquino’s announcement regarding the US firms interested in the Spratlys will exacerbate the ongoing political war between Manila and Beijing and spark diplomatic tensions between the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
“Mr. Aquino is leading this country into a long running and protracted diplomatic war with other Asian neighbors due to his first-rate puppetry to US,” Hicap said.
President Aquino said his administration was working on “steps to determine as to who actually owns the islands consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).He said there were various mechanisms for arbitration to settle the matter “once and for all, and to have these resources benefit not only the country but also its neighbors in the region.”
Earlier, Pamalakaya dismissed the $127 million aid package the Australian government launched for world’s poor but mineral rich nations like the Philippines. The Mining for Development project pursued by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard aims to help 30 developing countries and address various issues related to mining, environment and governance.
“We were not born yesterday. The oil and gas monopolies in Canberra, Sydney and even Melbourne want a lion’s share of the oil and gas explorations in Spratlys and other untapped oil and gas resources all over the country. The $127 million aid package is just a sweetener to cruel intentions and sinister agenda,” the group said. “Let us call a spade a spade.The US and the Australian government are investing their dollars to make sure of their allocations to some 3.3 trillion cubic meters of oil and gas deposits in Spratlys.
The militant group said the Aquino government will bid 15 offshore mining contracts to oil exploration giants based in the United States, Australia and Europe. At least 40 oil and gas firms in Australia had signified its desire to explore the Northwest and East of Palawan, which are very near to the disputed Spratlys group of islands.
Oil and gas search near Spratlys are Area 3 (Northwest Palawan, 600 hectares of bodies of ocean waters), Area 4 (Northwest, Palawan, 616,000 hectares), Area 5 (Northwest Palawan, 424,000 hectares), Area 8: 840,000 hectares in East Palawan, Area 9: 840,000 hectares in East Palawan, Area 10: 640,000 hectares in East Palawan, Area 13: 648,000 hectares in East Palawan and Area 14: 983,000 hectares in East Palawan. ??Pamalakaya said 40 prominent Australian oil and gas exploration companies, which include, among others the top corporations in the sector namely the Anglican Resources Plc., Shell, Apache, Chevron, AWT International, Black Swan, CalEnergy, Cue Energy Resources, ENI Australia, Exxon, Neon Energy, Otto Energy, Woodside and Tap Oil expressed keen interest to conduct oil and gas explorations in Philippine ocean waters and other areas being claimed by the Philippine government in Spratlys group of islands.