PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines May 21 Nine
Chinese fishermen pleaded not guilty on Wednesday before an
environment court in the Philippines after they were caught with
hundreds of marine turtles in a disputed shoal in the South
A boat unit of the Philippine National Police intercepted
the Chinese fishing boat and arrested its 11 crew members this
month in Half Moon shoal in the disputed Spratly islands.
If convicted of illegal fishing and violating the U.N.
Convention on trading of endangered species, the men face prison
terms of 12 to 20 years. They were granted permission to post
bail of of 70,000 pesos ($1,600) each pending further sittings.
A court-appointed defence lawyer entered a not guilty plea
for the men, who stood silently while the charges were read out
in a court in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan in the
west of the Philippine archipelago. The judge set a pre-trial
hearing for June 4.
"They agreed to participate in the trial and took the
services of the public attorney's office as their counsel,"
Allen Ross Rodriguez, Palawan's provincial prosecutor, told
reporters. The fishermen, he said, had initially declined to
take part in the proceedings.
Two fishermen were freed and sent home to southern China
after authorities determined they were minors.
Philippine prosecutors rejected demands from Beijing to free
the men on grounds they were arrested in Chinese waters. About
350 marine turtles were seized from their boat, about 100 km (60
miles) west of Palawan.
China lays claim to almost all the South China Sea, believed
to be rich in energy and fisheries resources. Brunei, Malaysia,
the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.
President Benigno Aquino this week accused China of
violating an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea
with land reclamation work in another disputed shoal.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said in Manila on
Wednesday that China's positioning of its biggest oil rig in
disputed waters threatened peace in the region. The dispute
sparked deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last week.
($1 = 43.7325 Philippine pesos)
(Writing by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Ron Popeski)