Time to review South China Sea policy, PH gov’t told
MANILA, Philippines — The latest incident at Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea where a Chinese vessel abandoned a Filipino boat in distress should prompt the Philippine government to review its policy on the South China Sea, a maritime expert said Thursday.
Prof. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said China might do it more frequently if not reprimanded.
“The Philippine government should not allow this incident to pass without reviewing/reconsidering its policy on the South China Sea. This may be just the latest example of how China continues to intimidate its neighbors in the South China Sea, and if China continues on this trajectory, we may soon see Chinese vessels frequently ramming and forcing our fishermen out of the West Philippine Sea, the same way that they’ve done to Vietnamese fishermen in their home waters,” he told INQUIRER.net
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier condemned Sunday’s incident, saying it was a “cowardly action” of the Chinese fishing vessel to leave behind the 22 Filipino crew after hitting the anchored vessel.
The site of the incident, Recto Bank, claimed by the Philippines and China, is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Based on the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, it is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, thus the Philippine government can explore and exploit resources there.
The PCA also invalidated China’s claim to nearly all of the strategic waters. Beijing, however, has ignored the ruling on the case filed by Manila.
When President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, he played down the sea dispute as he sought economic and trade investments from China.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has said several times in the past that protests against China’s actions in the South China Sea need not be loud or a “shouting match.”
But even then, reports of China’s harassment to Filipino troops and fishermen in the West Philippine Sea continued and had occasionally made it to the headlines.
“A calibrated response and adjustment is necessary; if there is no change, then China will take it as a signal that this incident can be repeated with no danger of an adverse Philippine reaction,” Batongbacal said.
The government should also send a note verbale to China to investigate and render a report on the incident, including the actions it has taken against the erring vessel.
“There are violations of COLREGS and international law/customs of good seamanship, and for the failure to render assistance to a ship/crew in distress,” he said.
He said leaving the distressed boat without rendering assistance further proves the “deliberate intention to cause harm.”
“A running person does not accidentally hit another person standing in the middle of the football field. Similarly, one moving vessel does not accidentally collide with an anchored vessel in an empty ocean. It can only be deliberate,” he pointed out. (Editor: Julie Espinosa)
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