Philippine leader sets 17 Vietnamese fishermen free

Vietnamese fishermen wave goodbye on their fishing vessels during a send-off ceremony in Sual province, Pangasinan, Philippines on Nov 2, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

SUAL, Philippines (AFP) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday (Nov 2) personally saw off 17 Vietnamese fishermen who had trespassed in Philippine waters, after ordering their release in a gesture of friendship towards Hanoi.

Duterte ordered the release of the 17 men, who were apprehended aboard three fishing boats on Sept 8, after visiting Vietnam, a fellow member of Asean.

At a send-off ceremony, Duterte told diplomats and government officials that he had ordered the charges to be dropped since the men had only entered Philippine waters to avoid bad weather.

He said the case was brought to his attention during his visit to Hanoi in late September and both the Philippines and Vietnam were small countries who suffered "impositions" by wealthier nations.

"That is why we place importance on Asean. It's just us, neighbouring each other, and we have to sometimes do some things to protect our interests."

The freed fishermen, their boats carrying fresh supplies, sailed from the coastal town of Sual with one of the vessels bearing a huge sign saying: "President Duterte Thank you. From: Vietnam fishermen".

Tran Minh Dung, a translator for the fishermen, said "there is no case against them. The Vietnamese fishermen entered the Philippine waters because they met a typhoon." "This (release) will show friendship between the Philippine government and Vietnamese fishermen."

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