Monday, February 22, 2010

Police orders probe of detained Malaysian trawlers in Tawi-Tawi

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 22, 2010) – Filipino authorities ordered an investigation into reports that police had detained 14 Malaysian trawlers and released the boats in exchange for money in the southern Philippines.

Police allegedly released a dozen Malaysian trawlers after its owners paid thousands of dollars in exchange for the boats. But two other trawlers are still being held in the southern island of Taganak near the Sabah border, Malaysian media reported on Monday.

It said the trawlers were seized by the police after allegedly straying into Philippine waters on February 14 and 15 and its crew of about 50 people had been detained.

Police released the 12 trawlers after its owners paid fines of up to RM40,000, it said.

“Philippines border officials based in Taganak Island under the Tawi-Tawi province released the trawlers after the owners paid “fines” ranging from RM13,000 to RM40,000 for allegedly encroaching into Phi¬lippines waters,” the Star Online reported.

But the Philippine Navy said it did not receive any reports about the apprehension of any Malaysian fishing boats in Taganak, an island town of Tawi-Tawi province. “We have no reports about it,” said Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, who heads the naval forces in the southern Philippines.

Reports said owners of the two remaining Malaysian trawlers were working for the release of the boats. It said Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sa¬hali assured that he would try to secure an early release for the remaining Malaysian trawlers. He said he would discuss with the Philippine Navy and the police to resolve the problem quickly.

“The owners are in the process of getting the trawlers released in the next few days,” the Star said.

But Senior Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, chief of the regional police force, said he already relieved the police chief of Taganak Island after receiving reports about the trawlers.

“I have relieved the chief of police of Taganak Island after receiving this disturbing report that Malaysian trawlers were apprehended and released in exchange for money. He is being investigated. We will not tolerate this kind of malpractice and even the governor of Tawi-Tawi, Sadikul Sahali, was angry with this incident because it is so embarrassing,” Latag told the Mindanao Examiner.

“We are trying to reform the police forces into a professional organization and we will not allow this kind of incident to ruin the clean image of the Philippine National Police,” he said.

Latag, a decorated officer, assumed last year as the new police chief of the Muslim autonomous region who has jurisdiction over the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao.

Malaysian fishermen previously detained in southern Philippines for poaching had accused authorities of extortion. The southern Philippines is a favorite fishing grounds, but is also considered dangerous because pirates and Abu Sayyaf militants are actively operating in the area. (Mindanao Examiner)

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