SUBIC FREEPORT, Philippines – After taking intense flak from Olongapo and Subic Freeport residents, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority took a step back Wednesday, November 13, and said it would not impose fines on Vietnamese fishing boats stranded in the waters of the free port.
In a statement, SBMA management said it recommended to its board that the agency abandon an earlier order to impose penalties on the Vietnamese fishermen.
The Vietnamese fishermen were forced to seek shelter in Subic Bay last November 6 because of the adverse weather conditions spawned by Typhoon Quiel (Nakri).
Ramon Agregado, the SBMA senior deputy administrator, said their seaport department’s memorandum “was simply a procedural reminder and a statement of policy, considering that the vessels entered Subic Bay without authorization.”
The memo signed November 7 by Jerome Martinez, general manager of the SBMA Seaport Department, told the Philippine Coast Guard that the Vietnamese fishermen should leave Subic Bay after the weather clears or "otherwise the appropriate port charges will apply."
However, the Vietnamese boats were marooned in Subic Bay because these did not have enough fuel to make the voyage back. The crew had been relying on the goodwill of Olongapo residents for food and water for the past week.
The Olongapo and Subic Freeport residents were triggered by the SBMA memo threatening to fine the stranded Vietnamese fishermen for overstaying.
In contrast to the SBMA's stance, the Olongapo city government led by Mayor Rolen Paulino Jr extended relief and facilitated communications with the Vietnamese embassy to help the stranded fishermen.
Even Subic Freeport locators assailed the SBMA for its behavior towards people who were merely seeking shelter from the storm.
Robert Gonzaga, President and CEO of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Incorporated, said that "the government should have a heart and a conscience, and not focus on collecting penalties and imposing fines (against the Vietnamese fishermen). "
Gonzaga said that SBMA's stance was typical but that it was " good to hear that the SBMA suddenly grew a conscience on this issue, albeit belatedly and only after being outed in the media. In matters of interpretation of its own misguided policies on any situation, the SBMA always takes the most hardcore positions, and always to the detriment of the other party, with no apparent effort to empathize or to extend assistance. "
In June 9 this year, after the Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver was rammed and abandoned by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea, its crew was rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat.
A report from the VNExpress said 10 fishermen from the Vietnamese province of Tien Giang "took them (the crew of Gem-Ver) to their boat and fed them rice and instant noodles, and helped them get warm after many hours of struggling in the sea for their lives."
The captain of Gem-Ver was also able to radio Filipino boats for help using the Vietnamese fishermen's equipment. – Rappler.com