Crewmen of a Vietnamese fishing vessel that illegally entered into Philippine waters in Tawi-Tawi are guarded by heavily-armed state troopers.
By Tracy Cabrera
BONGAO, TAWI-TAWI — Geopolitical experts from the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea expressed agreement with the military’s pronouncement to oppose the incursion of Chinese militia vessels in the Juan Felipe Reef area, saying if we do not take a stand now, China’s latest violation of Philippine territorial sovereignty could be deemed as a prelude to occupation and more infringements on our country’s integrity as an independent nation.
It now appears that their warning could be true as they pointed out that the government’s lukewarm response to the Chinese incursions could be misconstrued by other countries embroiled in the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (also known as South China Sea) as a sign of weakness that would encourage them to act similarly and start occupying territories they also claim.
And there are hints that this could be so after government forces apprehended a Vietnamese vessel and its seven crew members for illegally entering and fishing in waters off the Turtle Islands in Tawi-Tawi.
The Vietnamese crewmen are presently being held by the authorities in Bongao, where their vessel is impounded, according to Philippine Naval Forces Western Mindanao public affairs officer Lieutenant Chester Ross Cabaltera.
According to initial reports, members of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team 6 and Turtle Islands Police were conducting maritime patrols on fast boats Tuesday, March 23, when they chanced on the foreign vessel.
“Kapag may nakikita tayong boat, kahit Pilipino, tsini-check natin ang papers nila, routine po iyan. Ito, nataon, Vietnamese pala,” Cabaltera said.
The vessel was inspected and its crew failed to present any document allowing them to enter Philippine waters, he said.
The military identified the vessel’s occupants as boat captain Van Day, and his fellow crew members Cao Van Mih, Lam Tang Hung, Huyuh Tuan Anh, Huyuh Van Cuong, Nguyen Ngoc Hoa and Vo Van Taun. Reports by the apprehending units did not indicate if there was any fish in the vessel, but Cabaltera said its crew members are being held for illegal fishing just the same.
Based on local maritime laws, it is unlawful for any foreign person, corporation, or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters. Any entry shall constitute prima facie evidence that the vessel is engaged in fishing within the country’s territorial waters.
The Vietnamese vessel and its crew were first brought to the Turtle Islands Police Station and later turned over to the PNP Maritime Group’s office in Bongao.
Philippine Naval Forces Western Mindanao commander Rear Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. gave assurances that Philippine Navy and Philippine Marines in the region will continue helping other law enforcement agencies maintain security in the seas. (AI/MTVN)