A year after Recto Bank incident, no change in policy in West Philippine Sea — Diokno

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
A year after Recto Bank incident, no change in policy in West Philippine Sea � Diokno
On June 9, 2019, Filipino fishing boat GemVer 1 sank after being rammed by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has not changed its policy in the West Philippine Sea a year after a Chinese vessel rammed into a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno noted that while the incident drew public outrage, Philippine officials seemed to walk back and downplay the incident.

"It seems that the government was not swayed by the public outrage and really didn't do much in terms of changing any of its policies as far as Chinese incursions into our territory is concerned," Diokno said in a virtual roundtable discussion organized by Stratbase ADRi Tuesday.

Diokno noted how the government ended up opening its doors wider to such kind of intrusion from China but became "lukewarm" when it came to the livelihood of fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

The human rights lawyer's statement comes as a beaching ramp builty by a contractor on Pag-Asa Island in Palawan is turned over the government. According to news reports, the new facility will make it easier for the Philippines to build up defenses and infrastructure in the West Philippine Sea.

In April, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro Locsin Jr. tweeted that he had sent diplomatic protests to the Chinese Embassy over "the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in [Philippine] waters" and "declaring parts of Philippine territory as part of Hainan province."

The Navy said that BRP Conrado Yap was on patrol in the Kalayaan Island Group in February when it issued a radio challenge to a ship that identified itself as Chinese. "From there, PS39 was able to visually observe that the gun control director, an equipment that gives information in obtaining a fire control solution, of said PLAN vessel was directed towards PS39."

The Navy's Western Command said the Chinese vessel showed "hostile intent", although Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana cahracterized the encounter as "hindi naman offensive masyado (somewhat offensive)."

He said the Chinese ship probably wanted to test the Philippine Navy's reaction and did not really intend to cause harm.

Philippines plays down Recto Bank incident

For instance, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana initially denounced the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen "to the mercy of the elements."

Lorenzana was the first to condemn the incident but later on claimed the collision was "just an accident", echoing the position of China on the incident as "an ordinary maritime traffic accident."

President Rodrigo Duterte himself downplayed the ramming of the Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel as a "little maritime accident."

With this, Diokno said it is up to the Filipino people to ensure that the government understands that the issue is not small but it is about the livelihood of fisherfolks.

"Gem-Ver can be both a reminder and a spark. It can remind them that we will not forget and whether they like it or not, their day of reckoning will come," Diokno said.

Diokno and lawyer Andre Palacios, both representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), earlier for a writ of kalikasan in the West Philippine Sea on behalf of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales.

The petition before the Supreme Court sought to compel the government to protect and rehabilitate the Scarborough Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef, which are also being claimed by China.

The IBP, as well as Diokno, withdrew as counsels after at least 19 fishermen "disowned" the petition and backed out of the case.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 8, 2022 - 2:34pm

Updates in the aftermath of the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a suspected Chinese trawler.

June 8, 2022 - 2:34pm

Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay says fishermen and boat owner of F/BGem-Ver, the boat sunk by a Chinese vessel and abandoned at sea in 2019, received their P6 million compensation on May 16.

April 28, 2022 - 2:18pm

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirms "there has been a final settlement of the damage claims of the Gem-Ver fishermen against the owners of the Chinese vessel." — Kristine Joy Patag

May 24, 2021 - 3:54pm

The Philippines and China discussed the issue of compensation for the owner and crew of F/B Gem-Ver 1 — a fishing boat that was damaged and then sank in 2019 after an allision with a Chinese fishing vessel in the Recto Bank area of the West Philippine Sea — last week, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says.

"The [Department of Justice] will lead a small group (DOJ, [Foreign Affairs], [Agriculture/Bureau of Fisheries and Aquartic Resources) to put a close to this festering issue," he says, adding they will meet with their Chinese counterparts on June 2 and 7.

 "As far as the Filipino fishermen are concerned, it is important that they recover fully their expenses for the boat repair and the income they lost while the boat was under repair," he also says.

September 24, 2019 - 9:43am

A philanthropist from Shanghai has turned over a commercial fishing vessel to replace F/B Gem-Ver 1, which was damaged and sank in the the Recto Bank allision in June, columnist and special envoy Ramon Tulfo says in a press release. 

"The fishing boat, christened as F/B Pengyou, replaced the F/B Gem-Ver 1 that was sunk at Recto Bank in the South China Sea," the Office of the Special Envoy for Public Diplomacy to China says. Recto Bank is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Tulfo says Xue Chengbuao, a tycoon from Shanghai, turned over the the boat in a ceremony in San Jose, Mindoro Occidental on Sunday.

"F/B Pengyou is 17 meters long and 1.6 meters wide. It weighs 10.6 tons and has a Fuso engine with 160 hp," Tulfo's office also says.

"Pengyou" is Mandarin Chinese for friend.

July 8, 2019 - 1:04pm

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo says there is no contradiction in the Philippine Coast Guard's report that the June 9 Recto Bank incident is a “very serious maritime casualty” and President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier statement that the incident was a "little maritime incident."

"It's serious in the sense that when you leave our countrymen there then that's a serious matter," Panelo explains, adding that even if it is a serious matter "you cannot blow that and make it into an international crisis."

He adds the Philippines will "definitely" seek accountability from China over the allision that sank F/B Gem-Ver 1.

He says China will be the one to decide on how it should deal with or make accountable the crew of the Chinese vessel that left 22 Filipino fishermen after the allision.

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