The government will continue to tolerate the operation of Chinese fishing vessels
within Philippine territorial waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday night.
Speaking to reporters after a movie premiere, the President invoked the friendly relations between Manila and Beijing and said the Philippines would not prevent the Chinese from fishing in Philippine waters.
This friendship, he said, would prevent “a bloody conclusion” to any incident that might occur in the West Philippine Sea.
He also said China would not allow itself to be barred from fishing in areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The President’s remarks follow the June 9 ramming and sinking of a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
The boat’s captain, Jonel Insigne, said he would ask the government to ban Chinese fishermen from the Recto Bank after the Chinese abandoned him and 21 others in the open sea after their boat sank.
The government, however, provided assistance to the fishermen—the captain’s first request.
“That area is claimed by both [China and the Philippines]. For them, China, it happened within their jurisdiction. For us, it’s within our jurisdiction because we have two conflicting claims of ownership,” Duterte said.
The Palace on Tuesday said granting China access to Philippine marine resources was not treasonous.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte might have considered the friendly relations between the two countries.
“He said they will not allow it, but as far as they’re concerned, they have a historical right to that,” Panelo told reporters.
“Number two, we will allow it because we’re friends. Then we will meet halfway. That seems his point,” he said.
Panelo also argued the mere opening of the Philippines’ marine resources for others to exploit does not fall under the definition of treason, refusing to view Duterte’s decision as a “grant” to Beijing.
“It’s not like that [grant]. It’s like you’re tolerating them. It’s not necessarily granted,” he said, noting that the country is permitted to allow a group to fish under the international law of the sea.
“Why would it become treason? Under the ruling, you can grant. How can it become treason if it’s allowed?” Panelo said.
This year, reports about the presence of Chinese maritime militiamen in the West Philippine Sea, the harassment of Filipino fishermen, and Beijing’s mass extraction of giant clams all in the Philippine-claimed waters made headlines, prompting the government to file a salvo of diplomatic protests.
The Chinese government has not responded yet to Manila’s latest protest about the ramming incident.
Also on Monday night, Duterte apologized to the 22 Filipino fishermen, saying their “little maritime accident” was not enough reason to challenge China’s military might.
He said he saw the incident as “little” because there was no bloodshed.
“Well, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. It is a maritime incident. Little in the sense that there was no confrontation, there was no bloody violence,” Duterte said.
“If you want to get even, well, that is not a reason to go to any military excise there. If you do that, there will be war,” he continued in a mix of English and Filipino.
He said he was not belittling the fishermen’s ordeal, but said the incident did not justify heading into a military conflict with China.
“This thing is little for anybody to bring in the grey ships or the warships,” he said. “There was damage, but luckily nobody died. So, I’m sorry if that’s what they are feeling.”
On June 9, the Chinese vessel hit the FB Gem-Vir 1, leaving 22 of its crew stranded near the Recto Bank for four hours before they were picked up by a Vietnamese boat.
According to the President, preliminary reports from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Navy on the incident were already sent to his office for review. He is still waiting for the official and final report, he added.
Asked about the possibility of tapping a neutral party to investigate the incident, the President said, “Whatever satisfies the requirement of fair play and due process. Everybody should be heard.”
“It if they (China) want another investigation, I’m okay with that. Or they can always also investigate on their own and we can confront each other with our evidence here,” he added.
The President said China has promised to make reparations if the Chinese fishing vessel was proved to be at fault.
“China says if it’s their fault, they will pay,” Duterte said.
The owner of the Filipino fishing boat, the FB Gem-Vir, said they were seeking justice, not war.
In an interview with GMA-7, Fe dela Torre, wife of the fishing boat’s owner, said they were simply looking for reparations, not a conflict.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who has championed a joint investigation with China
, said neither side has yet discussed the mechanisms for such a probe.
“To find out if the collision was intentional or accidental, it can easily be determined. The relevant issue of the inquiry would be to determine why the crew of the Chinese vessel did not help the Filipino fishermen [in distress],” Guevarra said.
He reiterated his position that there would be no sovereignty issue in the proposed joint investigation. With Rey E. Requejo
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