Go after other illegal Chinese dredgers, gov’t urged
MANILA, Philippines — The government should look for and investigate other Chinese dredging vessels operating illegally in Philippine waters following the seizure of the 2,340-ton MV Zhonhai 68 off Bataan and Bulacan provinces by authorities last week for “illegal and unauthorized presence” in the country.
Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares said he took photos of the dredger, which was with another Chinese vessel, while filming a documentary in Zambales province in February 2019.
Sand and lahar
“There were actually two Zhonhais there. One is Zhonhai 68 and the other is Zhonhai 88 as seen in the picture. Our fishermen told me in 2019 that they bring sand and even lahar out to the West Philippine Sea,” Colmenares said in a statement.
“We hope that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Navy would act double time in looking for Zhonhai 88 as well as other Chinese dredging vessels so that they can properly be investigated,” he added.
At the same time, he urged the government to concentrate on the abuses committed by China in the Philippines, including the harassment of Filipino fishermen, instead of attacking its critics.
Cmdr. Armand Balilo, spokesperson for the PCG, said initial investigation showed that Zhonhai 68 was supposed to have left the country over a year ago.
The Chinese vessel was used in a dredging operation in Masinloc, Zambales, in early 2019.
Transferred to Aparri
It then transferred to Aparri for another dredging operation until November that same year, Balilo said.
He added that from Aparri, the dredger proceeded to Hagonoy, Bulacan. It reportedly underwent repairs and was due for conversion.
“But we have yet to see its papers from Marina (Maritime Industry Authority). Nothing is clear yet regarding its conversion,” Balilo said.
Upon verification with the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the PCG found out that Zhonhai 68 did not file an application for entry after its departure from Aparri.
“And there was no application for import permit or any other required documents for its conversion,” Balilo said, adding that as a result, the dredger would be subjected to WSD (warrant of seizure and detention).
Flag of convenience
MV Zhonhai 68 was spotted on Wednesday during a maritime security patrol about 13 kilometers southwest of Orion Point in Bataan province by the PCG and the BOC officers aboard BRP Panglao.
Balilo also confirmed that the Chinese dredging ship was flying the Sierra Leone flag, one of the flags of convenience used by the Chinese to take advantage of lower taxes and cheap labor. “But its ownership is still China,” he said.
‘Clear and present threat’
A militant fishermen’s group said on Sunday that the ship should be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law, as their continued presence in Philippine waters posed a “clear and present threat” to the country’s sovereignty and to the livelihood of local fishermen.
Pamalakaya vice-chair for Luzon Bobby Roldan, a fisherman in Bataan, said the province’s fishing grounds had been the alternative fishing grounds of Filipinos who were unable to go farther due to the presence of Chinese vessels and militias in the Beijing-held Scarborough Shoal.
But since last year, the fishermen had been sighting Chinese dredgers in Bataan and Zambales waters.
“There is a clear and present threat to our sovereignty, marine environment, and socioeconomic rights. Authorities, especially the Armed Forces, are supposed to be keeping watch and guarding our national sovereignty, not busying itself with senseless Red-tagging and anti-insurgency operations against civilians and activists in urban areas,” he added. —With reports from Tina G. Santos and Krixia Subingsubing INQ