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Philippines has exclusive jurisdiction over Mindoro collision - Palace
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Philippines has exclusive jurisdiction over the investigation because the incident last weekend happened in Philippine waters.
STAR/Geremy Pintolo, file

Philippines has exclusive jurisdiction over Mindoro collision - Palace

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines  — The Philippines will not allow foreigners to intrude into the probe on the collision between a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship and a Philippine fishing boat in the vicinity of Occidental Mindoro, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Philippines has exclusive jurisdiction over the investigation because the incident last weekend happened in Philippine waters.

“We will not allow foreign
entities to exercise criminal jurisdiction and civil jurisdiction over a matter that the Philippine authorities have exclusive jurisdiction,” Roque told ANC.

“This is being proceeded against as an issue involving Philippine jurisdiction. I think it is less controversial because it happened clearly within Philippine waters. This will be investigated by the (Maritime Industry Authority), by the Coast Guard,” he added.

The Palace spokesman said the prosecutor would conduct a preliminary investigation and file a case before a local court if there is “criminal responsibility” in the incident.

“Insofar as the damages are concerned, it will be proceeded as an admiralty case falling within the regional trial court of Mindoro, so this is an issue of enforcement of Philippine laws, although it involves a collision where one of them is a foreign flagship,” he said.

“But since it occurred in Philippine waters, it will be Philippine courts that will determine both criminal and civil liability,” he added.

Fourteen Filipinos went missing after fishing boat F/V Liberty 5 collided with Hong Kong vessel M/V Vienna Wood at midnight last Sunday off the province’s Mamburao town.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is now searching for the missing persons, 12 of whom are crewmembers of the fishing boat.

The Chinese embassy in Manila has offered to help Philippine authorities probe the incident and expressed hope that the missing persons would be rescued soon.

It has also called on critics to “refrain from politicizing the issue.”

In the same interview, Roque expressed confidence that the close relationship between the Philippines and China would enable fishermen of the 2019 Recto Bank incident to collect civil damages.

“I’m sure that with closer ties... the recovery of civil damages should be facilitated,” he said.

The claiming of damages is not necessarily an issue of international law, unless China makes it impossible for the fishermen to recover anything, according to the Palace spokesman.

“While the expiration or the passing of one year would indicate that they have not afforded adequate remedy, it’s still not tantamount to what (is a) travesty of justice to the extent that we should espouse the claim of our nationals already,” he said.

“If it appears that clearly, there’s a travesty of justice and that they should not be expecting any compensation forthcoming in the near future, then perhaps, we could trigger already the concept of espousal. Espousal simply says that the Philippines would take up the cudgels for its nationals in an international forum if need be,” he added.

A boat carrying 22 Filipino fishermen sank near Recto Bank on June 9 last year after it was hit by a Chinese fishing vessel. The Filipino fishermen were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel three hours after the mishap.

Diplomatic note

The Philippines will determine whether there was negligence on the part of the Hong Kong cargo ship, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said yesterday.

At the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, he said the Philippines would not hesitate to send a diplomatic note.

“I believe in the earlier case (of F/B Gem-Ver) because of this suspicion that many of these vessels out there are Chinese militia so we sent. In fact I didn’t just send it. I presented it in the United Nations myself and I praised the Vietnamese government because they saved the (Filipino) fishermen which… the Chinese vessel should have,” Locsin said.

“This is now purely a commercial vessel. It’s huge. If there is a diplomatic note that is required, it will be sent but again, it happened in Mindoro waters, and I don’t wanna make those Mindoro waters into a national water just to please idiots back here. I don’t wanna do that. So we’re gonna find out if one is called for then it will be done. Certainly (I) won’t hesitate to do this,” he added.

The PCG is looking at the civil and criminal liabilities of the crew of the Vienna Wood for not helping the 14 Filipinos even as the Liberty 5 was sinking.

China slammed on Tuesday parties “politicizing” the collision, saying priority should be given to the rescue of the missing fishermen abandoned by the cargo vessel.

The Chinese embassy in Manila said it was shocked at and saddened by the collision.

“Whether there was negligence on their part is what we’re gonna determine. And as the (Department of Foreign Affairs), with the cooperation of the Department of Justice, we’re gonna press claim for that. In that respect, it has nothing to do with the South China Sea,” Locsin said.

“Whether or not China was there, a fishing boat would have been hit by a commercial vessel, especially one that large,” he added.

The embassy was also not pleased with Philippine media reporting again the June 2019 collision between fishing vessels in the South China Sea.

It said China has been working closely with the Philippine side to solve the case.

“The concerned Chinese fishing association has already offered a compensation proposal to the Philippine side and has been waiting for formal feedback from the latter. In the spirit of cooperation and friendship, we believe the incident will be solved in a proper manner,” the embassy said in a statement.

Continue or stop search?

As it still could not yet find the missing Filipinos aboard the ill-fated fishing vessel Liberty 5, the PCG will determine today whether to continue or stop searching for them.

PCG Vice Admiral George Ursabia said their search and rescue operation would continue for three days since the Filipinos went missing on Sunday after the collision.

“It has to be sustained for three days. After which we will evaluate if there’s a need for us to extend such search and rescue operations… By Thursday, we will assess if there’s a need to continue such operations,” Ursabia said.

He told reporters that there were no signs of life on the second day of search and rescue operations, but he hopes that the 12 fishermen and the two passengers of FV Liberty 5 were just washed ashore and have survived the sea mishap.

In a report yesterday, PCG spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo said there are “no sightings of any survivors” in the scene during the third day of search and rescue operations.

Balilo, however, said the PCG continued to deploy their assets, hoping to rescue survivors in the sea tragedy.

“Island plane and (multi-role response vessel) 4403 were deployed. No sightings of any survivors. The PCG small boats are also searching the coastline of Occidental Mindoro,” he said.

In another development, Balilo said they have concluded the investigation on the foreign crew of Vienna Wood and is now gathering information from crewmembers of other fishing vessels that responded to help the 14 individuals from the capsized boat.

Balilo did not respond when asked about the results of the investigation on the foreign crew members.

Calls for justice

Meanwhile, Palawan First District Rep. Franz Alvarez yesterday urged authorities to run after the crewmembers of M/V Vienna Wood.

Alvarez joined calls for justice even as the search and rescue operations for the missing fishermen continue.

“We are hoping that our authorities will run after those liable for this incident that had possibly taken away the lives of the 14 fishermen and the livelihood of their families. May the victims be given justice and may our ordinary fishermen be given protection so that this incident won’t happen again,” he said in an interview.

Alvarez specifically called on the DFA to communicate with Hong Kong authorities about the incident. Pia Lee-Brago, Robertzon Ramirez, Edu Punay

HARRY ROQUE
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