Beijing yesterday offered to jointly investigate the incident in which its vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat and sailed away without rescuing 22 shipwrecked fishermen at midnight of June 9. Philippine officials said they were amenable to the proposal.
AFP
Joint Philippines-China probe on sinking looms
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A joint probe by the Philippines and China of the maritime incident in Recto (Reed) Bank is likely.

Beijing yesterday offered to jointly investigate the incident in which its vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat and sailed away without rescuing 22 shipwrecked fishermen at midnight of June 9. Philippine officials said they were amenable to the proposal.

“To find a proper solution, we suggest a joint investigation at an early date so the two sides can exchange respective initial findings and properly handle the matter through friendly consultations based on mutually recognized investigation results,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press conference in Beijing.

Reacting to China’s offer, President Duterte – through spokesman Salvador Panelo – said he “welcomes a joint investigation and an early resolution of the case.”   

The Palace will “await a formal communication” from the Chinese embassy, Panelo said.

At the Beijing press conference, the Chinese foreign ministry insisted that the hit-and-run incident was only an accidental collision.

Beijing also called irresponsible and counter-constructive the linking of the incident to relations with Manila.

Lu said China attaches great importance to friendly relations with the Philippines as well as to safety at sea regardless of nationality involved.

“We will continue to investigate the incident thoroughly and communicate with the Philippine side via bilateral channels,” he added.

The incident prompted Manila’s filing of a diplomatic protest. On Monday, the Philippines brought the issue to the attention of the United Nations.

Earlier yesterday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he had proposed a joint probe at a recent Cabinet meeting.

“During the Cabinet cluster meeting, I proposed that it be a joint inquiry with the Chinese side so that if there would be any disagreements on the factual findings, a referral to a neutral third party may be considered,” Guevarra said earlier yesterday.

But for the meantime, he said the DOJ would wait first for the results of the inquiry being made by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) “before determining if any legal action is warranted.”

He said he is leaving it up to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to coordinate with the Chinese.

“We’ll have to course the proposal to the Chinese ambassador through the DFA or maybe through the Executive Secretary (Salvador Medialdea). The objective is to determine the facts and allocate accountabilities in a joint, instead of an adversarial, manner,” he added.

He added Vietnamese representatives could also be asked to take part in the fact-finding investigation.

The PCG, through spokesman Captain Armand Balilo, said the International Maritime Organization (IMO) should be tapped as third party investigator.

“This is just my opinion but I think it would be good if there would be a third party of investigators such as the IMO because they have a pool of marine casualty investigators, if a member country makes a request, they could send a team,” said Balilo.

He said it would be a good idea to have the IMO involved in the case in view of its being neutral and its having experts in dealing with maritime mishaps. “This is really part of their job,” Balilo said.

Probe ASAP

 A quick and impartial probe is what the 22 affected fishermen want the government to undertake, according to a lawmaker representing the district where they live.

“We, the constituents of Occidental Mindoro, are supporting the cause of our fishermen. And we are asking that the marine inquiry be held at the soonest time possible, just like what our local fishermen really want,” Rep. Josephine Sato said.

She issued the call as officials claimed receiving accounts indicating that the Chinese may not have intended to ram the Filipino fishing boat at midnight near Recto Bank on June 9. Recto Bank is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. On Wednesday, the fishermen – after a visit from agriculture chief Emmanuel Piñol – claimed they were no longer sure if the Chinese had deliberately rammed their boat F/B Gem-Vir 1 (Gem-Ver).

The DFA has filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing and called the attention of the United Nations to the Chinese mariners’ disregard for the lives of the fishermen when they failed to rescue them after sinking their boat.

“We will not allow China to initiate any probe on the matter,” Sato pointed out. 

“We stand squarely behind our fishermen, not only for Occidental Mindoro, but for the whole Philippines,” she added. “Our fishermen will be telling all the moment they are summoned and allowed to testify in the inquiry.”

Meanwhile, Piñol maintained the 22 fishermen were not bribed or intimidated into changing their narrative of the June 9 incident.

“Critics of the administration were apparently incensed that after my short conversation with the owner and the fishermen, the public now has a clearer picture of what actually happened, thus effectively preventing them from exploiting the crisis,” he said.        

Sen. Richard Gordon, for his part, urged officials to refrain from making statements on the issue and just leave the talking to the DFA and the Department of National Defense.

“We should stick to the Philippines’ strongest position that the Chinese abandoned them and they should apologize for it. Our strongest position right now in our quest for justice is that everybody agrees that they were abandoned,” the senator said in a statement. – with Paolo Romero, Louise Maureen Simeon, Delon Porcalla, Evelyn Macairan

RECTO (REED) BANK
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