President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday led government officials in sending off 17 Vietnamese back to their country during simple ceremonies at the Sual Sea Wharf and Causeway Area in Pangasinan province. The 17 Vietnamese fishermen, who were on board three fishing vessels, were apprehended by Philippine Navy personnel last Sept. 8 off the shores of Sta. Catalina, Ilocos Sur province and were charged for poaching. Upon investigation, the foreign fishermen said they had no intention of violating Philippine laws but were in Philippine waters out of necessity. They said they were only seeking refuge from the wrath of then incoming Typhoon Ferdie (international name Meranti) and the ‘habagat’ that came with it. In his speech, President Duterte said he learned of the plight of the Vietnamese fishermen during his two-day trip to Vietnam last Sept. 28-29 and expressed his willingness to assist the Vietnamese fishermen so they could return to their country and their families. “Filipinos are known globally for treating their fellowmen with respect, regardless of their nationalities. So I told their President that I will do my best to expedite (their release). Although there will be certain procedures, I will move it in a jiffy. Just give me time,” the President said. “And I am very happy that I am here to send off my fellow human beings. That is what is most important, that we treat others with utmost respect,” he said. The 17 Vietnamese nationals were initially scheduled to fly to Vietnam via Philippine Airlines, courtesy of the Philippine government. However, they requested through the Vietnamese embassy that they go home on board their fishing vessels. As a symbol of hospitality and goodwill from the Filipino people, the Vietnamese nationals were presented with tokens and supplies that they can use on their journey home. Besides personal hygiene kits, the Vietnamese fishermen were provided with 123 kg. of assorted vegetables, 10 kg. of beef, three gallons of cooking oil, cooking gas for each vessel, 20 five-gallon containers of drinking water, two tons of fresh water, three sacks of rice, 90 blocks of ice and 3,000 liters of diesel. These all came from the Office of the President. Additional ‘pabaon’ were likewise provided by the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the form of instant coffee, 50 kg. of rice, bottled water, cooking oil, cup noodles, malong and water-resistant jackets. In the meantime, Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines Truong Trieu Duong expressed the gratitude of his government and the Vietnamese people. “I am deeply moved today and it is a great honor for me to witness the send-off of 17 of my fellow countrymen. By order of President Duterte, they are now free to return home on their own vessels with more than enough fuel and supplies provided by the Philippine government,” he said. He acknowledged the President for keeping his earlier promise to his Vietnamese counterpart to facilitate the release of the 17 fishermen.