No rush to file case against Chinese trawler crew, says Panelo
MANILA, Philippines — The government is not rushing the filing of charges against the crew of the Chinese trawler that hit and sank a Philippine fishing boat in the South China Sea on June 9 despite the Philippine investigators’ finding that it was a “very serious marine casualty” event and not just a “little maritime accident,” as President Rodrigo Duterte has described it.
Speaking on radio on Sunday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government must first see the Chinese investigation report before filing criminal and civil cases against the trawler’s crew.
“We also have to check the findings of the Chinese, what their findings are, because if they admit that their crew is at fault, they have to be accountable,” Panelo said.
The government, he said, must also ascertain China’s stance on the case before taking further steps.
“If they are willing to pay the compensation for whatever damage done and whatever damages suffered by our fishermen, we should also find out what their stand is. Otherwise, we will file charges against the crew,” he said.
The owner of the Chinese trawler may face civil cases for damages, while criminal charges such as reckless imprudence resulting in damages may be brought against the crew of the vessel, he said.
“The problem is, we don’t know who we are filing cases against. We have to identify the captain and the crew. Otherwise, who will we file cases against, John Does?” Panelo said.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has asked help from the Department of Foreign Affairs in gathering information about the Chinese trawler, such as the names of the owners, officers and crews and their addresses.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has identified the trawler as the Yuemaobinyu 42212 of Guangdong province.
The incident happened around midnight on June 9 near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the heavily disputed South China Sea.
The Yuenmaobinyu hit the anchored Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver 1 then sailed away, abandoning 22 Filipino fishermen in the open sea.
An investigation by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) found that the Chinese trawler not only failed to take measures to avoid hitting the fishing boat, but also willfully left the 22 Filipino fishermen struggling for their lives in the water.
The investigators also found that the Chinese trawler maneuvered about 50 meters from the sinking fishing boat, indicating that the Chinese crew had “direct knowledge of the distress situation,” but instead of pulling the Filipinos out of the water, they turned off their vessel’s lights and sailed away.
It was a violation of regulations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the investigators said in their report.
The Coast Guard and Marina investigators also found shortcomings on the part of the crew of the Gem-Ver 1, such as failing to assign a lookout before going to sleep, employing an unlicensed chief engine officer, overloading, and having expired BFAR licenses.
Using international marine investigation terminology, they described the incident as a “very serious marine casualty” event due to the total loss of the Philippine fishing boat.
The report was submitted to Malacañang on June 20, three days after the President played down the incident as just a “little maritime accident.” It was released on Saturday, but Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. did not confirm its authenticity on Sunday.
Locsin called it a “leaked alleged Coast Guard Marina report” on Twitter, and said it was unofficial until he could compare it with his copy, which came from the Department of Transportation.
Now it’s clear
On Sunday, opposition lawmakers said the report had shown that Malacañang diminished the seriousness of the incident.
“It’s clear from the report that the Chinese vessel hit [the] Gem-Ver  while the seas were calm and there were no visibility problems. It’s also clear that it took place within our EEZ, and [the] Filipino fishermen needed help only to be abandoned,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said.
“But instead of condemning and holding the foreigners accountable, it seemed President Duterte and his officials were lawyering for them. They are even complicit in whitewashing the issue,” Zarate said in a statement.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat lamented Malacañang’s consistent defense of China against the Filipinos’ interests.
“Our people were left at sea to die yet Malacañang still protects China. This is a stark betrayal. We are not a province of China and we do not condone this,” Cullamat said.
The President has refused to slam China for its incursions on the West Philippine Sea, always saying the Philippines cannot win a war against China.
On Sunday, Sen. Richard Gordon advised the President to just keep quiet and let Locsin and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana do the talking on the Philippines’ dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea.
‘We can do something’
“My unsolicited advice to the President is for him not to say that we cannot do anything [against China]. We may be a small country, but we can do something [to resist China],” he said.
Gordon said the President should hold monthly meetings with the National Security Council to consult it on the South China Sea row and other pressing national security concerns.
The President, Gordon said, should solicit advice from think tanks and experts from academia for drawing up sound foreign policy.
“[They can help] analyze the issue for him. He should not speak in public immediately,” Gordon said. —Reports from Julie M. Aurelio, DJ Yap, Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Marlon Ramos
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