GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 August) — Around 200 fishermen from this city and other parts of Mindanao who were jailed in Indonesia due to illegal fishing and immigration violations have been repatriated by the Philippine Consulate General in Manado.
Daniel Te, head of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Regional Consular Office-12 here, said the fishermen are expected to arrive here on Thursday, Aug. 25, from Bitung in North Sulawesi, Indonesia through a vessel owned by Filipino businessman Voltaire Loma.
He said Loma, who is based in Bitung, volunteered to bring home the fishermen, most of whom have already completed their sentences.
“The vessel left the Bitung port last Friday and we were informed that its arrival is on schedule, barring weather-related problems along the way,” he told MindaNews.
Te said the Consulate General in Manado earlier processed the repatriation of the fishermen after being notified of their release from detention by the Indonesian government.
He said the Consulate immediately verified the citizenship of the fishermen, who are mostly undocumented or did not carry passports and other official travel documents, as the Philippine Constitution mandates that it can only repatriate or bring home Filipino citizens.
The official said they facilitated the verification process by sending the birth certificates and other legal identification documents of the fishermen.
Based on the identification documents that they sent, he said nearly 90 percent of the repatriates are from this city and nearby Sarangani Province.
He said these are mainly crew members of fishing boats owned by companies based in the city that were caught fishing illegally in Indonesia’s territorial waters and were later charged with illegal entry and fishing violations.
Since January, DFA records showed that a total of 229 fishermen who were jailed in Indonesia have already returned home.
Some 136 fishermen were repatriated in February and 93 more in May through the efforts of the Consulate General in Manado and assistance from Loma and the Philippine Navy.
As of Monday, Te said around 300 fishermen from parts of Mindanao are still languishing in various jails in Indonesia.
“The DFA, through the Consulate General, has been working with the Indonesian government for the release of these fishermen,” he said.
He said they have been closely coordinating with fishing companies here to prevent incursions in Indonesia’s fishing grounds.
The official said they were able to get commitments from fishing companies and vessel owners for the proper monitoring of their fishing operations.
“From Aug. 1 to 19, there were no reported apprehensions by Indonesia so I think our efforts are gaining ground,” he added. (MindaNews)