‘China needs to ensure safety of Pinoy fishers’

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
�China needs to ensure safety of Pinoy fishers�
“The President wanted China’s assurance that the rights and safety of our fisher folks are guaranteed,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday.

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte wants fresh assurance from China that Filipino fishermen would remain safe in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, including in and around Recto Bank where a Filipino fishing boat sank after being hit by a Chinese vessel.

“The President wanted China’s assurance that the rights and safety of our fisher folks are guaranteed,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday.

He said he is leaving it up to the Department of Foreign Affairs to decide whether the Recto Bank incident would be brought up at bilateral meetings with Beijing, particularly the bicameral consultative mechanism.

He also downplayed possible negative repercussions of Beijing’s rejection of the idea of having a third party investigator for the June 9 Recto Bank incident.

He also clarified that Duterte did not intend to keep the verbal fisheries agreement with Xi from the public, saying there were official notes of the conversation regarding the matter between the two leaders.

“And by the way, with respect to the agreement, remember you were saying if there is a formal agreement and I said, it’s a verbal agreement, but don’t forget that bilateral meetings are recorded, so we have a record of that agreement,” Panelo said.

“If you look at the transcript – and at the same time we said it is not also true that the President did not make known f that agreement because the Secretary of Foreign Affairs made certain announcements with respect to that, relative to the fishing in Scarborough,” he added, using another name for Panatag Shoal.

Panelo allayed fears that Duterte had already abandoned or disregarded an international arbitral ruling in 2016 invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim and upholding the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

“We have been fighting for and enjoining other countries in crafting a code of conduct that will be observed by all stakeholders in the disputed areas of water,” he said.

“We reiterate that we remain steadfast in maintaining our claims with respect to our territory and exclusive economic zones. This is based on the constitutional command of the Constitution on the President to serve and to protect the Filipino people,” Panelo pointed out.

He stressed the current administration “shall maintain amity and friendly relations with all nations” as allowed by the Constitution.

“It is absolutely fallacious to argue that the President is surrendering our sovereignty by not aggressively pursuing the arbitral ruling in our favor rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Panelo said.

Panelo again assailed Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s argument that allowing the Chinese unrestricted access to Philippines’ EEZ is against the Constitution.

“Let me remind the critics: the issue here is not about which country has a better claim based on its constitution or laws. Nor is it the enforcement of our upheld rights, which unfortunately until now, no entity or country is inclined to perform,” Panelo said.

“What is the issue? The issue is how to go about getting the benefits without endangering the lives of our countrymen and bringing us to the precipice of war,” he said.

Panelo said the President, as head of state, should ensure the wellbeing and security of every Filipino.

“This is precisely the reason why the framers of the Constitution have immortalized the raison d’etre of a government, which is: its prime duty is to serve and protect the people. This is found in Section 4 of Article 2 of the Constitution,” he said.

“(Duterte) believes that aggressively enforcing the arbitral award will only precipitate or trigger an armed conflict that could escalate into continuing bloody encounters detrimental to the national interest,” he said.

“I would like to address this again to those advocates of the theory of Justice Carpio: the framers of the Constitution in tasking the President to serve and to protect the Filipino people could never have intended to chain the President in performing his constitutional duty by placing provisions in the Constitution in derogation of such obligation,” he pointed out.

“Being fixated on invoking a particular right through actions which will cause the destruction of the very holder of such right, apart from being thoughtless and senseless, is to our minds an exercise in self-destruction,” he added.

No forcing of 3rd party probe

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Philippines cannot insist on a third party investigation of the June 9 Recto Bank incident.

“If it doesn’t want to, then you can’t do anything about it.... We cannot force a party to do something which it doesn’t want to do,” Guevarra said at a press conference, referring to China’s refusal to have a third party in the investigation.

His statement came after Panelo said “perhaps we will insist” on a third party probe after Beijing rejected the idea.

But Guevarra said the two governments would just have to try to come up with a consensus on the findings of their separate investigations.

“Assuming that there will be a disagreement as to the factual findings, I guess the two parties will just have to sort it out by continually negotiating until a consensus is arrived,” he suggested.

The DOJ chief said both camps would have to “exert all efforts to reach a consensus and a satisfactory resolution of this issue.”

President Duterte earlier said the ramming of the F/B Gem-Vir 1 by a Chinese vessel may have been unintentional. The Chinese sailed away after the mishap, leaving 22 fishermen drifting for hours in open sea before being rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.

In a related development, the Department of Social Welfare and Development said the 22 fishermen have received P10,000 each under DSWD’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program.

Undersecretary Aimee Torrefranca-Neri distributed the cash assistance to the fishermen during her visit to Occidental Mindoro on June 19. She also provided two food packs each to the 22 fishermen.

The agency said its field office in Region IV-B previously provided food packs to each of the fishermen as immediate response after they were rescued. 

Social workers also conducted psychosocial intervention to help them cope with trauma from the experience.

“The DSWD Field Office IV-B, in coordination with the Local Social Welfare and Development Office of Occidental Mindoro, is currently conducting further assessment to determine additional appropriate services that can be extended to the fishermen,” the DSWD said in a statement.

“DSWD is looking into the provision of livelihood assistance to the families through its Sustainable Livelihood Program and educational assistance for their children, also, through the AICS,” it added.

The agency assured the fishermen and their families that the DSWD would continue to assist them until they have fully recovered from the incident and are able to live normal lives.  – With Edu Punay, Janvic Mateo

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