FOR the second time, President Rodrigo Duterte led Wednesday, November 29, the ceremonial send-off of five Vietnamese fishermen who were caught illegally poaching in Philippine waters.
Duterte bade farewell to the foreign fishermen in Sual Sea Wharf and Causeway Area in Pangasinan as they left the Philippines to return to Vietnam.
The President had pledged to send home the apprehended Vietnamese fishermen during a bilateral meeting with Vietnamese officials on the sidelines of the recently-concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vietnam.
On September 23, the Philippine Navy chased seven Vietnamese fishermen aboard a vessel after they were seen fishing 32 nautical miles off Bolinao town in Pangasinan province. This resulted in the killing of two Vietnamese fishermen, Le Van Liem and Le Van Reo, and the arrest of five others.
The apprehended fishermen who are on their way home to Vietnam are Phan Lam, Phan Net, Nguyen Uan Trong, Nguyen Than Chi, and Pham To.
Duterte, in a speech, apologized for the September 22 incident and assured it would not affect the "very strong" ties between Vietnam and the Philippines.
"I'd like to address our Vietnamese friends. We are one. We are Asians. I'm sorry for the incident. I hope it would never happen again. But this incident will not destroy our bond of relationship -- very strong. We would be willing to talk anytime," Duterte said.
"With that, on that note, I bid you a safe return," he told the fishermen.
Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines Ly Quoc Tuan, who was also present at the send-off rites, thanked Duterte for approving the release of the five fishermen.
He said the send-off ceremony, which he stressed will allow the fishermen "to reunite with their awaiting families," signified the friendship between the two countries.
"I believe that those fishermen will forever cherish the kindness and warm treatment shown by your Excellency President and the Philippine authorities. I also want to want to take this opportunity to extend our sincere thanks to the relevant authorities for having taken care of the fishermen during their stay here in Sual, Pangasinan," Ly said.
"Allow me once again to express our gratefulness to the act of goodwill that President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine government rendered," he added.
Section 1 of the Philippine Fisheries Code provides that it is unlawful for any foreign individuals to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources found that the Vietnamese fishermen committed poaching within the Philippine waters. They would not be fined, however, because of humanitarian considerations.
This is the second time that Duterte freed the apprehended fishermen from Vietnam. On November 2, Duterte sent home 17 Vietnamese fishermen, who were also found poaching in Philippine waters. (SunStar Philippines)