PH files protest vs China over boat sinking
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest against China after an anchored Philippine fishing boat was hit by a Chinese vessel that abandoned 22 Filipino fishermen as the boat sank in the disputed South China Sea on Sunday night.
“I fired off a diplomatic protest yesterday (Wednesday),” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted on Thursday in answer to a tweet from Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV suggesting that the Philippines refer the incident to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which counts both the Philippines and China as members.
Locsin said he agreed that the matter was a case for the IMO but stressed that he wanted to proceed on its merits and what it called for.
The secretary, who is on an official trip to Geneva, also made comments apparently directed at people who had been saying it should be determined whether the action of the Chinese vessel should be construed as the act of the Chinese state.
“My people in Manila think we should tread a bit more carefully over something maybe between private parties although clearly one at fault twice over. But in the context of swarming over several years, we can take it a little farther,” Locsin said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who reported the incident on Wednesday, had recommended the filing of a strongly worded diplomatic protest.
Lorenzana condemned the sinking of the Philippine fishing boat Gim-Ver 1 on Sunday night after being hit by a Chinese vessel while anchored at Recto Bank, a rich fishing ground internationally known as Reed Bank, off western Palawan.
He denounced the “cowardly act” of the crew of the Chinese vessel who abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen after their boat sank.
Lorenzana thanked the Vietnamese fishermen who rescued the Filipinos and brought them to safety.
Cut ties with China
Malacañang on Thursday said President Duterte was “outraged” by the incident and was likely to take resolute action.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Philippines might sever diplomatic ties with China if the sinking of the Philippine fishing boat could be proved to have been intentional.
“We want to find out first. If it was intentional, that’s a different story. If it is intentional, it is an act of aggression,” Panelo said.
Later on Thursday, Panelo said Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua had sent him a text message giving assurance that China was “seriously investigating” the incident.
“The fishing boat issue is being thoroughly and seriously investigated. We share your concerns about fishermen,” Zhao said in his message, which was released by the Palace.
“If it were true that it was [a] Chinese fishing boat which did it, they would be duly educated and punished for their irresponsible behavior,” Zhao said.
Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad, chief of the Philippine Navy, on Wednesday said the Chinese vessel was liable for abandoning the Filipino fishermen after it sunk their boat.
“Whoever is at fault, you have to help the people who are in the sinking ship and are in danger of drowning. It is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of race or country,” Empedrad told reporters.
China’s sweeping claim
Recto Bank is in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the heavily disputed South China Sea. China, however, claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claim in a 2016 ruling on a challenge brought by the Philippines, but Beijing ignored the decision and proceeded to build military outposts on seven Philippine-claimed reefs in the South China Sea.
Beijing has deployed coast guard and hundreds of fishing boats—its so-called maritime militia—to the reefs to intimidate rivals for territory.
It remained unclear on Thursday whether the vessel that hit the Gem-Vir 1 was part of the Chinese maritime militia.
Take a strong stand
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who led the Philippine challenge to China’s claim over the whole South China Sea, said Manila should take a strong stand after the latest incident in the maritime dispute.
“What is obvious is that Goliath, the neighborhood bully, will continue to rear [his] ugly head to intimidate our poor fishermen. We need to find a way to hold China’s leadership accountable,” Del Rosario said in a statement on Thursday.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged President Duterte to recall Philippine diplomats in China, like he did in a row over garbage with Canada, to show how serious Manila was in defending the lives of Filipino fishermen.
But Panelo slapped aside Hontiveros’ and Del Rosario’s comments, saying the administration “knows what to do.”
Other lawmakers deplored the behavior of the Chinese vessel’s crew.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon called on the government to “call out China for not honoring its obligations to rescue any person in distress at sea or in danger of being lost at sea in accordance with international laws and treaties.”
Law of the Sea
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III denounced the Chinese crew’s abandonment of the Filipino fishermen.
“No matter who was at fault, the crew of a sinking ship must never be abandoned by an able ship,” Pimentel said.
Neri Colmenares, chair of party list group Bayan Muna, cited Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which requires the able ship to “render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers” after a collision.
Colmenares also challenged the President to condemn the Recto Bank incident, and suggested that the Philippines start building an alliance with other claimants in the South China Sea to oppose China’s militarization of the region.
Sen. Grace Poe urged China to file charges against its fishermen who abandoned the crew of the sinking Philippine boat.
“To prove that our friendship is true, maybe their country should file charges against those who committed that. They should mete [out] the proper punishment. They left our fishermen to die, and Vietnam had to rescue them,” Poe said.
Sen. Richard Gordon called on the Coast Guard to deploy vessels to Recto Bank to protect Filipino fishermen there. —REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING, JULIE M. AURELIO, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, TINA G. SANTOS, MELVIN GASCON, KARL R. OCAMPO AND AP
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