Friday, August 6, 2010

Vietnamese Jailed & Fined for Killing 101 Endangered Sea Turtles

PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN - After nearly two years, justice has been served to the 13 Vietnamese poachers caught with the corpses of 101 endangered Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) near El Nido, northern Palawan, in August of 2008.

Puerto Princesa’s Regional Trial Court, Branch 50, made the decisions on all three cases last week. The resolutions are:

Case No. 23533 for Sec. 87 of the Fisheries Code (RA 8550): Imprisonment of up to six months and fines of approximately PHP 4.5M each.

Case No. 23836 for Sec. 97 of the Fisheries Code (RA 8550): Imprisonment of up to six months and fines of approximately PHP 120,000 each.

Case No. 24388 for Sec. 27 of the Wildlife Act (RA 9147): Imprisonment of up to 18 months and fines of approximately PHP 15,000 each.

Since the poachers have been detained in Puerto Princesa since 2 September 2008, the court ruled that only the fines remain to be served.

(WWF Palawan Project Manager RJ dela Calzada measures one of the 101 dead Hawksbill Turtles in this image taken in August of 2008. WWF-Philippines)

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) commends Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court Branch 50 for dispensing due justice to the poachers. WWF-Philippines Palawan Project Manager RJ dela Calzada, who also serves as an Auxiliary Commander for the Philippine Coast Guard, says, “Let this serve as a precedent for future cases - and as a strong warning to all those who continue to encroach upon Philippine waters to plunder our dwindling marine resources.”

WWF further commends the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Local Government of El Nido and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development for seeing the case through.

The Vietnamese vessel, marked as F/V 91234-TS, was apprehended by two Joint Task Force Malampaya (JTFM) gunboats five miles east of Cabaluan Island near El Nido on the night of 29 August 2008. The 13-man crew attempted to scuttle the craft by flooding the holds, which was swiftly thwarted. Found drowned in the vessel’s cargo holds were 101 Hawksbill Turtles, classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically-endangered - the highest risk rating for a living animal. Under Philippine and international law, it is illegal to capture and kill sea turtles and to trade in turtle by-products.

The presence of sea turtles preserves the sea’s natural processes. Green Sea Turtles for one, continually browse on sea grass, which are naturally pruned to grow denser, allowing the plants to spread more rapidly amidst the sea floor. Thousands of species of fish and invertebrates seek shelter within these submerged meadows, which also serve to store excess atmospheric carbon dioxide to retard global warming. Hawksbill Turtles eat stinging jellyfish, preventing climate-induced blooms which would negatively affect tourism. The August apprehension of the Vietnamese proved one of the largest illegal wildlife hauls of 2008.

In the last decade over a thousand foreigners have been arrested and charged for poaching in the waters of Palawan alone. Over 660 poachers were Chinese. Sentences have historically proven rare, under fear of damaging international relations with neighbouring countries.

In September of 2007, 126 endangered Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and 10,000 turtle eggs were found aboard Chinese fishing vessel F/V 01087 in Sulu.

In April of 2008, a 23-man Vietnamese poaching detail aboard the M/V Quang Mei was arrested in Balabac, Southern Palawan. Retrieved from the craft were assorted fish and a sea turtle.

In July of 2008, four Vietnamese aboard F/V 95986 were arrested for alleged poaching off Guntao Isle, El Nido. Four other fishing boats, believed to be Vietnamese, escaped.

In April of 2009, seven Chinese poachers aboard an unmarked speedboat were arrested near Cauayan Isle in El Nido. Thirteen dead and one still-living Green Sea Turtle greeted authorities. It was quickly tagged and released.

Last week’s court decision is a step in the right direction and a 180-degree turn from the country’s image as a hotbed for poaching activities.

Says WWF-Philippines Vice-Chair and CEO Lory Tan, “This is a good example of enforcement meted out to a logical and just end. Laws are enacted to create that level playing field designed to protect the public and serve the greater good. There can be no exceptions. Whether Vietnamese, Chinese or Filipino - environmental criminals must be held fully accountable for destroying the legacy we all hope to leave behind for future generations."

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