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President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday 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 September 8, after visiting Vietnam, a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (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, neighboring 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."
At the ceremony, the acid-tongued Duterte, 71, once again lashed out at the U.S. the Philippines' main defence ally, for its criticism of his crime war that has claimed over 3,700 lives in four months.
Duterte said his Asian counterparts treated him with more respect.
"We should not forget that we Orientals place importance on self-respect, dignity and if we ask or propose something, we do it subtly," he said.
Duterte has raised eyebrows with his tirades against the U.S. and the European Union, whose members have also criticized the rash of killings under his administration.
He has instead focused on bolstering ties with neighboring countries, especially China, where his recent state visit secured Manila billions of dollars in Chinese investments and loans.
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Many have been spending their vacation in hospital.
China is imposing a seven-day ban on Vietnamese seafood exporters for every container of theirs it finds contaminated with the coronavirus, causing them enormous difficulties and possible losses.
There are still, he added, "a lot of unknowns" in the battle against Zika.
The labor ministry is gathering statistics on Vietnamese workers in the Middle East as the U.S.-Iran tension escalates.
A 47-year-old man of Thanh Hoa Province carrying drugs into Vietnam from Laos was detained Monday in a border area.