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A Palawan court has convicted 10 Chinese nationals to a jail term of 10 years for illegally entering the country coming to Puerto Princesa City aboard a yacht at the height of the pandemic in July.

Presiding judge Ambrosio De Luna of Regional Trial Court Branch 51 in Palawan and Puerto Princesa City, in a decision rendered on November 6 but was released to the public on Wednesday, found guilty Deng Kang Xiang, 44; Luo Xiao Giang, 34; Xu Yuan Sen, 21; Chen Zhen Gi, 65; Zhou Wei, 35; Chang Liu Ging,27; Zhao Jian Hui, 37; Lien Nua Wei, 27; Zhao Zhou Yin, 37; and Luo Shui Sheng, 35, in violation of Section 46 of Commonwealth Act 613, or Philippine Immigration Act of 1940.

The ruling came as de Luna rejected a plea bargain deal the defendants tried to seek, settling for five years of imprisonment and fines of P5,000 each.

The ten Chinese nationals were aboard a luxury yacht, PY “Mei Li 31”/PY Chapts, that came from Tianjin City in mainland China, when they were intercepted around 2 a.m. on July 21 as they “intentionally disembarked” at the city waters without proper documentation from the immigration authorities. They claimed to have been en route to Hong Kong and went to Palawan “to gather reprovision of food and to refuel”.

Xiang, believed to be the leader of the group of foreign nationals, claimed that he was a member of East Palawan Commercial Property Inc. that owned a parcel of land at Barangay Concepcion in Puerto Princesa City.

Commodore Allan Corpuz, commander of Coast Guard District Palawan, in an earlier statement, asserted that the group violated immigration laws and the strict health protocol being implemented the city, citing their trip was “not coordinated with the Chinese embassy”.

When asked for verification, Xiang was able to show a special residence visa and a passport with him but the other nine Chinese nationals had no proper documentation.

The convicted foreign nationals were yet to be transferred to a penal facility where they will be serving their sentence.

(With a report from Ruth Rodriguez)