Probe sought on plight of fishermen repatriated from Indonesia

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 16 Oct) – The provincial government of Sarangani is seeking a deeper investigation into the plight of 10 fishermen from the area who were repatriated from Indonesia earlier this month after being detained for illegal fishing and entry violations.

Hermelo Latoja, Sarangani Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) chief, said Wednesday an initial inquiry conducted by their office showed that the repatriated fishermen appeared to be victims of human trafficking.

He said the 10 fishermen, who arrived in the city last Sunday along with 15 other repatriates, were mostly residents of the coastal town of Malapatan.

Latoja did not give further details as to how the fishermen ended up in Indonesia, specifically in North Sulawesi province, but sources said they were earlier recruited to work for fishing companies there.

“We will endorse their cases to our colleagues (in the regional interagency council against trafficking),” he said in an interview over TV Patrol Socsksargen.

The 25 repatriates, three of whom were minors, were reunited with their families at the city airport here on Sunday after spending 4 to 16 months in Indonesian jails.

Sister Susan Bolanio, coordinator of the Stella Maris Seafarers’ Drop-in Center here, said their group worked on the repatriation of the fishermen following appeals made by their relatives in the area.

She said they helped obtain reprieve for the jail sentences of some fishermen, most of whom were arrested by Indonesian naval authorities while fishing illegally in its waters.

“We also assisted some fishermen who were already freed but could not go home due to the lack of resources,” Bolanio said.

She said the group shouldered the return airfare of the fishermen, who arrived in Manila from Manado in North Sulawesi last Oct. 3.

The fishermen stayed for about two weeks in a mission facility in Mandaluyong City before they flew in to this city last Sunday as arranged by Stella Maris and the Sarangani PSWDO.

Meantime, Latoja said a significant number of fishermen from Sarangani Province are presently languishing in various jails in Indonesia as disclosed by the repatriated fishermen.

Since January, he said a total of 69 fishermen from the province have already been repatriated from Indonesia.

City Mayor Ronnel Rivera, who has been assisting the repatriation efforts, had estimated that around 5,000 fishermen from the city and the neighboring areas are still languishing in Indonesian jails.

He said most of the detainees were crew members and officers of fishing boats owned by various tuna fishing companies based in this city that were apprehended by Indonesian naval personnel after encroaching Indonesia’s fishing grounds.

The detained fishermen were supposedly abandoned by their employers following their arrest by Indonesian authorities, he said.