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Probe won’t tackle China’s poaching at Recto Bank – DOJ

MANILA, Philippines — The proposed joint investigation with China of the June 9 boat ramming incident at Recto Bank in the South China Sea is not the proper forum to tackle the Chinese vessel’s poaching in the area, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Monday.

The incident, where a Chinese trawler hit and sank the anchored Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver 1 and abandoned its crew of 22, happened near Recto Bank, about 148 kilometers northwest of Palawan and within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.

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“The poaching issue is a collateral issue to the incident,” Guevarra said. “But the marine inquiry is not the proper forum to discuss this much broader economic issue.”

Other countries involved

He said other countries “are involved — Vietnam, Taiwan, China and other coastal states — with their own EEZs.”

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), the Philippines has sovereign rights to “explore, exploit, conserve and manage” the natural resources within its EEZ.

Guevarra said the joint investigation with China would focus on which party was at fault and decide the amount of restitution, and on whether the Chinese trawler was liable for abandoning the 22 Filipino fishermen who were left adrift after the sinking.

“Under the Unclos and international maritime laws, cases may be pursued against the Chinese,” he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday said an independent fact-finding body was the most credible way to investigate the incident.

He said only the President was authorized by law to create such an investigative body and designate its members.

Drilon’s proposal

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“Such body should be the one to investigate … make recommendations … and submit a report to the President and the Congress (on the Recto Bank incident). This body, I would propose, should be composed of men of integrity, probity and independence,” Drilon told reporters.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the June 9 sinking could be part of China’s “cabbage strategy,” a military plan aimed at controlling a disputed region “layer by layer.”

A political analyst on Monday described as “weak” the government’s response to the incident, saying it would hardly earn China’s respect.

Victor Manhit, managing director of advisory and research consultancy group Stratbase, told the Inquirer that despite the incident happening within the country’s EEZ, government declarations about it had favored the Chinese explanation over those of the Filipino crew.

“For that to happen in the EEZ of the Philippines, it’s quite sad because it’s the job of our government to protect our maritime rights and territorial integrity. [They are] our own fishermen in our own EEZ … exercising our own maritime rights,” Manhit said.

Del Rosario donation returned

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he had returned former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s P500,000 check donation for the 22 fishermen, explaining that the Department of Foreign Affairs could not dispense donations.

“Hi Albert, I tried really hard to use the check as you intend but all monies not used by DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) for itself go to Treasury,” he tweeted on Monday.

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TAGS: DoJ, joint investigation, Menardo Guevarra, Recto Bank incident, Reed Bank incident
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