Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, Navy's Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC) (Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy / MANILA BULLETIN)

Regardless of nationality, the Philippine Navy (PN) will not hesitate to arrest fishermen who will use illegal fishing techniques that would destroy the minerals and other marine life within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, Navy’s Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC), said there is no question of nationality when it comes to protecting the country’s water resources.

“I think regardless kung sino’ng (whatever) fishing vessel na ‘yan (that is), if they do illegal fishing like dynamite fishing, huhulihin talaga namin ‘yan kahit sino man siya (we will arrest them whoever they may be),” Empedrad said.

“We treat every fishermen similarly based on the laws of fishing,” he added.

The Navy Chief issued such statements just as President Duterte announced recently that he would allow China to fish in the waters within the Philippines’ EEZ, including the West Philippine Sea, citing the friendly relations between the two countries.

“We cannot drive them away because they have insisted that it’s theirs,” Duterte was quoted as saying in a speech at Malacanang last Wednesday.

The issue is but an off-shoot of many other territorial conflicts between the Philippines and China, which was recently magnified due to the sinking of a local fishing boat by a Chinese vessel near the Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea last June 9.

Fishing boat Gem-Ver1 and its 22-member crew were abandoned by the Chinese vessel after the incident, inciting public furor and outrage.

However, Duterte later described what happened as a “minor incident,” which is now being echoed by Empedrad.

“It is perfectly right when the President said that it is a minor incident. Bakit (Why) minor incident? Ang major incident kasi kapag involved ang big ships (Major incident is when big ships are involved),” Empedrad explained.

He went on to cite a supposed collision between a “super ferry” and a New Zealand frigate before which resulted to the sinking of the foreign vessel as an example of a major maritime incident.

“But when involved ay small ships, the President perfectly [said it,]” Empedrad stated.

On the other hand, Empedrad maintained that the act of abandoning the fishermen is what’s unacceptable to him.

“Iyon din ang kino-condemn ng Presidente syempre. Kaya iniimbestigahan ‘yan (That’s what also being condemned by the President, of course. That’s why it is being investigated),” he said.

The separate investigations made by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) have already been finished and the results were already submitted to Malacañang last week.