This photo shows the fishermen who were abandoned at sea after their fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel.
Philippine Coast Guard, released
Manila, Beijing favor joint probe into Recto Bank allision
( - June 20, 2019 - 7:31pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 10: 45 p.m.) — Manila and Beijing are both inclined to hold a joint investigation into the allision near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, an option that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra floated earlier on Thursday.

The allision and the abandonment of 22 Filipino fishermen by the Chinese vessel involved has earned the government criticism for its perceived soft stance on the issue.

"The president welcomes a joint investigation and an early resolution of the case. We will await a formal communication from the Chinese Embassy," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a tweet by state-run PTV-4.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, in a statement sent through the Chinese Embassy, also called for a joint investigation into the incident "so the two sides can exchange respective initial findings and properly handle the matter through friendly consultations based on mutually-recognized investigation results."

Lu also offered sympathy to the crew of F/B Gem-Ver "who were in distress after the accidental collision of a Chinese and a Filipino fishing vessel in Liyue Tan, Nansha."

Liyue Tan is the Chinese name for the Recto Bank, which is also called Reed Bank.

"I’d like to reiterate that China attaches great importance to friendly relations with the Philippines and safety of personnel at sea, regardless of nationality. We will continue to investigate the incident thoroughly and communicate with the Philippine side via bilateral channels," Lu also said.  

Guevarra suggests joint probe

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier in the day said a joint investigation could help shed light on the incident.

"So that whatever facts would be established would be mutually acceptable," he explained.

Guevarra added that the joint inquiry would help “establish the true facts, allocate responsibility for restitution, and adopt measures to avoid similar incidents in the future.”

The Chinese embassy confirmed that incident but denied that it was a "hit and run." It said, in a statement June 9, that the fishermen were rescued by other Filipinos in the area, contrary to earlier reports that Vietnamese fishermen passing through had rescued the Filipinos. 

The crew of the Vietnamese boat that helped the Filipinos have already narrated what happened at the Recto Bank and corroborated what the Filipino fishermen said.

President Rodrigo Duterte meanwhile downplayed the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank as a “little maritime accident.”

Request to be coursed through DFA, OES

The Justice chief said he proposed the joint inquiry between the two countries during the cluster meeting on June 17.

But since China is not under Philippine jurisdiction, a proposal may be coursed to the Chinese ambassador through the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Office of the Executive Secretary. 

Should a joint investigation be conducted and the parties disagree on the factual findings, a third party may come in.

“A referral to a neutral third party may be considered,” he said.

No legal action yet

Officials of the Philippine government have agreed not to pursue legal action on the allision of a Chinese vessel and a Philippine boat where the lives of 22 fishermen were put at risk after they were deserted after the allision “at this time,” Guevarra also said.

The Justice chief said that while the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea and international maritime laws have provisions that would allow the pursuit of a legal action on the incident, the special cabinet cluster agreed to instead conduct an inquiry for now.

He explained: “The agreement during the special cabinet cluster meeting last Monday was to conduct a proper marine inquiry, preferably a joint one with China.”

Guevarra said that the Justice department will have to wait for the results of the maritime inquiry before it would determine if a legal action is need.

“Legal action is, and should always be, the last resort,” he added.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this article attributed China's comments to Hua Chunying. They were from Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang.)

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