China rejects 3rd party in boat sinking probe
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Chinese officials had told Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Chito Sta. Romana that there is no need for a third party since the two countries can settle the issue between themselves: “Ang sabi naman nila, huwag na iyong third party. Kailangan tayo lang ang mag-usap doon.”
KJ Rosales

China rejects 3rd party in boat sinking probe

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 2, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — China has rejected a proposal for a third party investigator for the Recto (Reed) Bank incident and has insisted that the probe be conducted only by Philippine and Chinese authorities, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Chinese officials had told Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Chito Sta. Romana that there is no need for a third party since the two countries can settle the issue between themselves: “Ang sabi naman nila, huwag na iyong third party. Kailangan tayo lang ang mag-usap doon.”

Panelo said the Chinese made sense in arguing that if the two countries could come to an agreement, there was no need for a third party: “Para sa kanila, hindi na kailangan iyon kasi kung magkakasundo na kayo, bakit pa kayo magti-third party? Oo nga naman.”

A boat with 22 Filipino fishermen sank near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea after it was hit by a Chinese vessel last June 9.

Last week, President Duterte, citing preliminary results of a probe by the Navy and Coast Guard, said the Filipino boat was “sideswiped” and the incident may have been unintentional.

Duterte said the F/B Gemver should have been hit from below if the sinking had been intentional. He had called the sinking “a little maritime accident,” drawing flak from critics who accused him of downplaying the incident and siding with China.

Panelo said Sta. Romana informed Malacañang about the stand of the Chinese foreign ministry last June 24.

Despite Beijing’s position, Panelo stressed the Philippines would push for a third party investigator if the findings of Filipino investigators and their Chinese counterparts did not match.

“Perhaps we will insist, ‘if we do not reach an agreement, let’s tap a third party.’ But for now, they are okay,” the spokesman said.

“There’s nothing we can’t agree on, You will just decide on whether it was an accident or it was deliberate. Number one, who is at fault? Number two, the abandonment, who was accountable for that? What will be the compensation for that?” he added.

He said a third party could be an independent body and does not have to be a country.

“But if that’s the only issue, I think it is easy to determine whether it was an accident or not. From the investigation of the two (countries), they can already determine. When it comes to accountability, I think it’s also easy,” he said.

Panelo said China wants the two countries to conduct separate investigations and then discuss them in a meeting.

“We have to create a task force... And then, we exchange our findings, and then we decide on what to do,” he said.

Panelo emphasized Duterte has been open to both a joint probe and the tapping of a third party investigator. He said what’s important to Duterte is having the party accountable unmasked and penalized.

Panelo also assured the public that the administration would not be contented with an apology from the crew of the Chinese ship involved in the incident.

“If it’s not an accident, then there is negligence... Why did you abandon them? What will you do to the people you abandoned? You just can’t apologize to us,” the spokesman said, adding that the government has already condemned the Chinese abandonment of the Filipino fishermen.

“But I trust the assurance by the ambassador of China when he said that they would not allow that. If there is irresponsible behavior, they would impose sanction; that’s their job,” he added.

Word of honor

He also said the Philippines may have to rely on China’s word of honor regarding a supposed verbal fishing agreement between President Duterte and China’s President Xi Jinping.

Malacañang earlier admitted the deal was not put on paper.

Duterte revealed last week the existence of such agreement to clarify his earlier statement that China could not be stopped from fishing in the Philippines’ EEZ.

The President said Filipino fishermen now have access to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal because of the agreement reportedly forged in 2016.

Panelo said the deal was borne out of the discussions between Duterte and Xi.

“Palagay ko walang pinirmahan. Parang ano lang iyon eh, parang nag-usap lang sila (I think they did not sign anything. They just talked),” Panelo told reporters. “Heads of state have word of honor.”

Panelo said the President trusts that Xi would honor the verbal agreement.

“Eh sa ngayon hindi naman niya ginagalaw ang Reed Bank, ‘di ba? Gaya ng pangako niya (Until now he has not touched Reed Bank as promised),” the spokesman said.

Asked whether the agreement is legally binding, Panelo replied, “Why not? What’s wrong with that?”

Panelo claimed the legal basis for the agreement was the constitutional provision that states that the primary duty of a government is to protect and to serve the people.

“In law, something is valid and binding even if it’s verbal as long as there is mutual consent between the two parties,” he said.

Panelo claimed the President has been transparent about the fishing agreement and has disclosed its details in his previous speeches.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, the presidential spokesman also said the Philippines may “lose everything” if it enforces the constitutional provision on EEZ.

“That provision, if you enforce that literally then you’re courting dangers; because precisely China would not want that. In other words, what benefit do you have if you enforce that provision and then losing everything,” he said.

“Because what use is there – that provision – if you aggressively enforce the arbitral ruling and it will precipitate and trigger armed conflicts between the two sides,” he added.

In 2016, a UN-backed arbitral court based in The Hague invalidated China’s massive claims in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

But Panelo said there may be no need for Duterte to invoke the arbitral ruling if the Philippines gets what it wants.

“Under the arbitral ruling, there is a specific ruling on what is ours, areas they cannot enter. If they agree and if we settle it through talks, what else is there to invoke? Nothing,” he said.

Release results

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, urged Malacañang yesterday to release to the public the results of the investigation of the Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) of the Recto Bank incident.

He said “public interest demands the report be made public, and for transparency.”

“Let us see what is contained in the report. I will be pleasantly surprised if it contradicts the President,” Drilon said, apparently referring to President Duterte’s description of the incident as “a little maritime accident.”

He said that while the country maintains its friendship with China, the government must lead in protecting the country’s territory including its exclusive economic zone.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson over the weekend said he hoped the Coast Guard and Marina did some forensic analysis of the incident and did not just take sworn statements from the Filipino fishermen, who were reportedly left in the water after their fishing boat was allegedly rammed by a Chinese vessel last June 9.

Lacson said a forensic analysis would help determine whether or not the ramming of the Gemver was intentional.

He said the bigger issue was the fishermen being abandoned in the water by the Chinese, in violation of international and local laws.

Vice President Leni Robredo, meanwhile, chided the President and his supporters for again raising a war scenario, saying China has never waged war against Vietnam despite the latter’s tougher responses to Chinese provocations in the South China Sea.

Robredo issued the statement as Duterte repeatedly warned of possible war with Beijing if the country insists on exploring for oil in the West Philippine Sea.

“That’s what I don’t understand, not just the President but even his supporters on Facebook, that (war) is their interpretation, that we should be afraid of China because it will wage war against us,” Robredo said over dzXL. “The idea of (war) only came from them (Duterte and supporters).”

Robredo said Vietnam, also a claimant-country in the South China Sea, has maintained a good economic relationship with Beijing despite the ongoing sea row.

“Vietnam is very vocal if there are threats or incursion of its territory, but it maintains a good relationship (with China) economically. Their trade relations are so thriving,” she said.

Robredo said the country can always maintain good relations with China without sacrificing its sovereignty.

“I believe we will benefit from good economic relations with them (China) but not at the expense of our sovereignty and territory,” she said.

The Vice President also expressed concern over Duterte’s latest pronouncement that he could not bar the Chinese from fishing in the Philippines’ EEZ due to a “mutual agreement” he made with Chinese President Xi.

“The President’s recent statement is worrisome... First of all, if that is your territory you should not ask for permission to fish there,” she said. – With Helen Flores, Paolo Romero

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