Gov’t seeks return of Filipino fishermen jailed in Indonesia

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/24 May) – The national government is working for the repatriation within the next few weeks of at least 27 Filipino fishermen who are currently languishing in various jails in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province due to illegal entry and fishing violations.

Commander Ernesto Baldovino, commanding officer of the Philippine Navy’s BRP Miguel Malvar (PS-19), said Tuesday the Department of Foreign Affairs has directed its consular office in Manado in North Sulawesi to negotiate with Indonesian authorities the immediate release and repatriation of the jailed fishermen, some of whom were from this city.

“The consul general (in Manado) is currently on top of this matter and has started initial talks with the Indonesian court authorities to seek reprieve for the jailed fishermen,” he said.

He said the repatriation proceedings were done in close coordination with various government agencies and local government units in the area.

Baldovino said most of the jailed fishermen were separately arrested by Indonesian naval personnel aboard fishing boats that reportedly encroached on fishing grounds covered by Indonesia’s territorial waters.

Some 22 fishermen who were earlier detained for the same violation arrived in the city over the weekend following their repatriation from Indonesia.

The repatriated fishermen were residents of this city, Davao City and the provinces of Davao Oriental and Sultan Kudarat.

Among those sent home were the remains of fishing boat captain Arnold Abellar, who was reportedly shot by Indonesian policemen earlier after he allegedly attempted to escape from their custody.

Abellar was the skipper of F/B Kasuari 54, which is reportedly owned by local fishing firm Mommy Gina Tuna Resources Inc. (MGTR).

The fishing boat was stopped last May 8 by Indonesian coast guard personnel after allegedly encroaching on Indonesia’s tuna-rich fishing grounds.

“We cannot really blame them (Indonesia) because just like the Philippines, they’re just protecting their own territory and fishing grounds,” Baldovino said.

He said Indonesian authorities have been wary over the rampant illegal fishing activities and encroachments within its territorial waters by Philippines-registered fishing boats, which are mainly engaged in handline fishing.

The official said Indonesia considers the encroachment as a security problem and at the same time a threat to its own fishing industry.

Marfenio Tan, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc., said the problem worsened during the last several years due to the expiration of the country’s bilateral fishing agreement with Indonesia.

He said Indonesia later agreed to reopen its fishing grounds but only to purse seine fishing vessels of Philippines-based fishing companies that have invested in fishery-related ventures within Indonesian shores.

Tan said such move mainly affected the handline tuna fishing operations, which are financed by smaller fishing companies.

“The only way to resolve this problem on a long-term basis is through the proper management of our own fishing grounds. The government should seriously push for stronger policies or regulations against overfishing to sustain our fishery resources,” he said.

Tan said the fishing federation had been reminding local tuna industry players regarding the risks of fishing within Indonesian territorial waters and the restricted fishing grounds.

To help address these problems, he said they have been making representations with concerned government agencies to push for the renewal of the bilateral fishing agreement with Indonesia and the establishment of similar accords with other neighboring countries. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)