A Hong Kong fishing boat owner and his 23-member Chinese crew accused of poaching and fishing with dynamite in Philippine waters are to stand trial in the Philippines after the country's justice department caved in to intense lobbying and reversed a previous order setting them free. Referring to Hong Kong ship captain Kwok Wai-ming and his crew, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez told the South China Morning Post: 'They should go to trial because they were arrested and you cannot detain people without giving them a trial.' Filipino environmentalists welcomed his surprising turnaround, but Tulay, a local Filipino-Chinese foundation, said it was an injustice. 'These people are mercilessly held up. It's highway robbery,' said Dorian Chua, a trustee of Tulay, which has been helping the alleged poachers. They were detained on October 21 for violating the fisheries code by allegedly poaching in Philippine waters and using dynamite - charges punishable by up to 10 years in jail, a US$100,000 fine and confiscation of their vessel. Although free to roam Palawan Island after posting bail of more than 1 million pesos (HK$170,000), the men have been barred from leaving the country and have been relying on funds from their families, their community in Hong Kong and Tulay. Lawyer Arnel Venturillo insisted there was no case against his clients, who denied setting off dynamite to catch fish but admitted using 'dynamited fish' as bait. They said that 'when they were arrested, the GPS [global positioning system] on board their vessel showed they were in Malaysian waters'. The Philippine coastguard countered that its own GPS showed the Hong Kong-registered vessel was inside Philippine territory. Because of the contradictory statements, Mr Gonzalez said, 'that's now a question of evidence, and this is why there is to be a trial'. He could not say when it would begin. Mr Venturillo said he found Mr Gonzalez' about-face 'all too confusing' and 'unconstitutional'. He noted that Mr Gonzalez directed the provincial prosecutor of Palawan to withdraw the charges on January 17, repeating the order on May 24. But he reversed that decision on June 22. Mr Gonzalez said he revoked the order because of complaints from environmental and civil-society groups.