Aquino on Tubbataha: Not again!
Upon hearing that a Chinese vessel ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef, Aquino exclaimed, 'Grabe naman!'

NOT AGAIN. Upon finding out about the news of a Chinese vessel running aground on the Tubbataha Reef, President Benigno Aquino III exclaimed, "Grabe naman! Kakakatapos lang noong Gurdian, meron na naman?'" Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – “Grabe naman!” (That’s too much.)

News about a Chinese fishing boat running aground on the Tubbataha Reef peeved President Benigno Aquino III so much that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya found his reaction amusing.

In an interview on Wednesday, April 10, in Capiz, Aquino described how he reacted upon hearing that a second vessel ran aground the Unesco World Heritage site.

The incident occurred more than a week after salvage teams removed from Tubbataha the USS Guardian, stuck for more than 10 weeks in the area.

“Natawa si Secretary Abaya dahil noong ni-report sa akin nI Secretary Abaya, ang sagot ko sa kanya, ‘Grabe naman! Kakakatapos lang noong Gurdian, meron na naman?”

(Secretary Abaya was amused because when he reported it to me, I told him, ‘That’s too much! The Guardian incident just ended, and we have another one?)

The boat ran aground on Tubbataha Reef Monday night, April 8. A report reaching the Department of Transportation and Communications said the boat had 12 persons on board.

In January, the USS Guardian, a US Navy ship, ran aground on Tubbataha, a site known for its rich marine life.

Aquino said the Chinese nationals on board the vessel will face charges under Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Act of 2009.

“The law says those caught must be held accountable. It’s a fishing vessel, the way I understand it, it will be the owners of the fishing vessel, amongst others, who will be charged,” Aquino said in Filipino.

“The bottom line is we have a law, Republic Act 10067 that states that if you enter the zone, there is an immediate presumption that you want to poach. There are corresponding penalties – imprisonment, fines – and our job as the executive department is to executive this law.”

Various government agencies are preparing charges against the Chinese fishermen, who arrived in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan on Wednesday. 

Under the Tubbataha Act, commercial fishers found to be in violation of Section 19 (Unauthorized entry, enjoyment or use of the Tubbataha reef) face stiffer penalties than regular entities — an imprisonment of between one year to 3 years and a fine of P500,000.

Section 26 of RA 10067 states that anyone who fishes or gathers corals shall face imprisonment of between 6 years and 1 day to 12 years and a fine of between P100,000 to P250,000, plus an additional administrative fine of P100,000 to P250,000.

Section 27 stipulates even heavier penalties if the individuals or group caught poaching are foreigners. If found guilty, the Chinese fishers could face imprisonment of between 6 years and 1 day to 12 years and a fine of $100,000. The offender’s catch, fishing equipment and fishing vessel will also be confiscated.

More buoys, bigger buffer zone 

Aquino said the government is studying how to avoid yet another grounding incident on the Tubbataha.

“There is contemplation to add more lighted buoys, and to expand the so-called buffer zone. You will expand the area that vessels are not supposed to pass by to forestall any possibility that there will be another grounding incident,” Aquino said.

Aquino said the Tubbataha Reef covers an area that is “very, very extensive” and the buoys will help fishermen and navigators know that they should keep out.

Aquino said the Philippine Coast Guard is conducting a probe on the issue.

“We will check the results of the investigation which I’m sure the Coast Guard is now doing to know if the rangers are not doing enough or they lack equipment to know how to forestall this.”

He stressed that government is focused on protecting Tubbataha.

“The Executive Secretary [Paquito Ochoa Jr] is a diver and he tells me that if you go on a diving trip to Tubbataha, you can do 6 dives per day, and for something like 4 to 6 days, you don’t return to the dive area.”

“That’s how rich the marine ecosystem is here and that obviously is such an attraction for those into diving and for tourists in general. So it is really in the national interest to preserve this to the fullest extent possible because it’s really one of the natural wonders of the world.” – with a report from Ayee Macaraig / 

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