Minority senators warn against joint probe on Recto Bank incident

Minority senators warn against joint probe on Recto Bank incident
In this June 14, 2019 photo, crewmen of F/B Gem-Ver 1 board the Philippine Navy's BRP Tausug after being rescued.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — There is no need for a joint probe with China into the June 9 incident at the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Sunday, saying the Chinese vessel involved had violated Philippine law.

President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to Beijing's suggestion of a joint investigaton in to the incident, where a Chinese vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat and left its crew in the water after the allision. The president said a committee should be formed with representatives from Manila and Beijing and from a neutral country.

"The incident happened within our territory and the facts were clearly established. All that is left for the government to do is to implement and execute our laws. Sadly, our laws were put in the backseat in favor of China," Drilon, a lawyer and a former Justice secretary, said.

'Joint probe could impact West Philippine Sea claim'

He said that agreeing to a joint investigation "would derogate our jurisdiction and prejudice our claim in the [West Philippine Sea]." He added "there are clear violations of international treaties and our local laws committed by the Chinese vessel."

In a separate statement on Sunday, Sen. Francis Pangilinan —a member of the Senate minority and president of the minority Liberal Party—also warned that the joint probe would undermine Manila's position in the maritime dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.

"It also impacts our territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea," Pangilinan, a lawyer, said. "It was already ruled as ours at The Hague in 2016. It weakens our position and can be raised as an act of abandonment of our claim."

The Palace announced Saturday that the joint investigation would "determine what really transpired in Recto Bank and find a satisfactory closure to this episode."

Drilon stressed that Recto Bank is part of the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone and said that according to a 2016 arbitral decision, "China [had] unlawfully interfered with the enjoyment and exercise of the sovereign rights of the Philippines with respect to the resources of its exclusive economic zone."

The Duterte administration has played down the ruling, which China rejects and refuses to recognize, in favor of bilateral dialogues to work out issues in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea that Manila claims and is part of the Philippine EEZ.

Pangilinan said that the Recto Bank allision cannot be played down as a simple maritime accident.

"The lives and livelihood of our fishermen, marginalized and poorest of the poor, will never be a little incident to us. That's why we believe that a joint investigation between Philippines and China is disadvantageous to our national interests. It will never be a fair investigation when one is the oppressed and the other is the oppressor. When one is the victim and the other is the perpetrator," he said.

"A joint investigation is against our Fisheries Code. Our Fisheries Code mandates the government to safeguard the safety of our fishery and aquatic resources and to prosecute local and foreign violators. Part also of the government's mandate is to address foreign illegal entrants in our waters," he also said.

Fisheries Code

Drilon said that under the Fisheries Code, aquatic resources in Philippine waters and within its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf are for the exclusive use of Filipinos.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said as much last week about Vietnamese fishermen who had rescued the 22 Filipino fishermen of F/B Gem-Ver 1 hours after the boat sank from damage from the allision.

"Thank you to the Vietnamese for helping, but you are not supposed to be there but thank God you were there. That was an illegal act that was actually providential," he said on June 19.

He said Cabinet officials had agreed not to punish the Vietnamese in recognition of their helping the stranded Filipinos.

The Palace, on June 17, said that the Chinese vessel was not allowed to fish in the Philippine EEZ, but also said "we do not know yet if they were fishing there." China, in a statement through its embassy had already said the Yuemaobinyu 42212 had been fishing when the incident happened.

Drilon said a foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters is assumed to be engaged in fishing in those waters.

"They could contest the facts surrounding the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat by that Chinese vessel. But the fact that that Chinese vessel illegally encroached upon Philippine waters is uncontestable. And for that, the government can penalize them," Drilon said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who is in the Senate minority with Drilon, said Saturday that a joint probe with China would lead to a fixed or predetermined result.

"If China only intends to whitewash the incident and is unwilling to bring her erring citizens to justice for their acts, then any joint probe will be an exercise in futility," she said in a statement. — Jonathan de Santos

vuukle comment





  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with