MANILA (PNA) -– The Philippine government on Monday said it will release from its custody two of the 11 Chinese poachers who were found to be minors.
A Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) statement said the two were among the crew of Chinese fishermen arrested last week in Hasa-Hasa Shoal — the Philippines’ name for the rocky outcrop within its territorial waters also known by its international name, “Half Moon Shoal”.
Under Philippine laws, specifically Republic Act 7610, minors cannot be prosecuted.
“The two were confirmed to be minors after a medical check-up conducted by our medical authorities,” the DFA said.
They will be turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Regional Office in Palawan for subsequent release in accordance with Philippine regulations.
The remaining Chinese fishermen currently detained in Palawan will face charges for violating Philippine environmental and fisheries laws.
Philippine authorities found a huge haul of endangered giant sea turtles in their vessel, many of them dead and beheaded.
Manila said the fishermen also violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
UNCLOS, ratified by more than 100 nations including the Philippines and China, gives maritime states the right to explore, exploit and develop areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
China also lays claim to the shoal, but the DFA maintained Hasa-Hasa Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group and within the Philippines’ EEZ in the South China Sea.
Manila adopted the name West Philippine Sea for some parts of the resource-rich waters that fall within its UN-mandated territory.
China claims almost 90 percent of South China Sea, an assertion that triggered serious concern from its smaller neighbors like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan as it overlaps with their territories.
Beijing’s far-reaching claims over the resource-rich waters has also worried the United States, Japan, and the European Union, fearing that it could spark military confrontations in the region and hinder freedom of air and sea navigation.
Manila challenged China’s massive claim before a The Hague-based arbitral tribunal to try to declare it as illegal. (PNA)