Philippines to review case of 33 'smugglers'
THIRTY-THREE Chinese sailors, including five uniformed officers from the Hainan Island Frontier Police, appear to have become the political victims of a war of words between the Philippines and Beijing over the disputed Mischief Shoal in the Spratly Islands.
The 33 men, who were arrested on board the Chinese military ship MV Gong Bian in August while it was allegedly offloading 50 boxes of smuggled cigarettes from the Honduran registered ship Harbour Star near Bataan Island in Manila Bay, were to have been released on Friday for lack of evidence.
However, Acting Justice Secretary Demetrio Demetria, apparently acting on orders of the National Committee on Illegal Entrants, which comes under the Office of the President, has ordered a review of their case.
Observers said the review was in retaliation for the discovery of two Chinese warships and a spindly structure on the Spratlys - which the Philippines call the Kalayaan Islands - about 140 kilometres from Palawan.
The 33 Chinese were charged with illegal entry, smuggling and illegal possession of firearms, but all were set to be released after state prosecutor Pablo Formaran recommended the charges be dropped.
Mr Demetria has declined to say whether the review has anything to do with the events at Mischief Reef, but admitted the 'incursion' had made relations between the Philippines and China 'a little sour'.
The Philippines is also holding 54 Chinese - including 13 women and 14 children - caught allegedly poaching with explosives off Cavile Island in the Sulu Sea in September.