MANILA, Philippines—Defying China’s demands regarding its nine fishermen recently convicted of poaching in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines said it would not release the Chinese nationals until they’ve paid the fine.
Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr. said the nine would still have to cough up $100,000 and $2,730 each for poaching and possession of an endangered species respectively.
If they can pay the fine, then they are deemed to have served the penalty of subsidiary imprisonment. In case of non-payment, then they must serve six months each for the two offenses for a maximum of one year, he said.
However, their time in detention—which started last May—would be counted as time served, meaning they can be released by May 2015, he added.
Philippine maritime police apprehended the fishermen last summer near Half Moon (Hasa-Hasa) Shoal and confiscated 350 live and dead sea turtles.
China had earlier refused to participate in their trial; demanding they be released unconditionally instead. It did not provide a lawyer nor an interpreter to the accused.
Their non-cooperation was the main reason why the fishermen’s trial took too long, local prosecutors said.
Judge Ambrosio de Luna of the Puerto Princesa Regional Trial Court Branch 51 handed the accused their sentences. Clerk of court Hazel Alaska said the court could have imposed a 20-year sentence on the fishermen, but in the end opted to slap them with a fine only.
China claims sovereignty over the entire West Philippine Sea; an area believed to be rich in resources and one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes. It is embroiled in a dispute with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries who claim a part of the area.
It has also rejected arbitration by the United Nations after the Philippines brought its case to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.