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China seeks closure to boat-ramming incident

Beijing wants to put the issues involving the Recto Bank incident to rest due to its effects on the friendly relations between Philippines and China, Malacañang said Tuesday.

In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua relayed Beijing’s desire for a “closure” on the incident, which has dragged on for nearly a month.

“We have to put closure to this because our relations are being affected,” Panelo told reporters, quoting the Chinese envoy’s text message to him the other day.

But Panelo said the administration’s critics and detractors have been “milking” the issue against President Rodrigo Duterte.

“That’s my impression, that enemies of the President are just milking the issue. They are using it [against him]. That’s why we have to put closure to this. They’re creating a fuss out little things,” he said, playing down the incident in which a Chinese vessel in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat on June 9, then left its crew of 22 fishermen in open water.

“All of us [want closure]. I’m sure all Filipinos want to put closure to this. We have to determine exactly who was at fault at the incident. We want to determine who’s accountable. What will be the compensation? What will you do to your act of abandoning?” Panelo said.

“All of us want to end it. It’s not proper to just let it stay and point fingers at each other,” he added.

On June 9, a Chinese vessel hit the FB Gem-Vir 1, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen adrift in the open sea for hours, raising tension in the disputed waters and prompting Manila to file a diplomatic protest against Beijing.

China previously denied that its men abandoned the Filipino fishermen, saying there were “afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats.”

Now, Manila and Beijing say they will conduct a joint investigation to determine the facts and circumstances of the incident.

The Palace official added that President Duterte wanted Beijing’s “continuing assurance” that the rights and safety of Filipino fishermen are guaranteed.

He said Duterte recalled that Filipino fishermen were not safe when they were fishing two years ago.

“That’s why he made sure that we got the assurance that they will not be touched. They have not touched them,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, said he expected China to reject a third-party arbiter on the Recto Bank incident.

“Remember that they are claiming this as part of their territory,” said Drilon, saying agreeing to a third party arbiter would derogate their claim of jurisdiction over the area.

For the same reason, Drilon said, the government should not propose a third party arbiter because the Philippines also claims the area as part of its exclusive economic zone.

Senators on Tuiesday said the mere verbal agreement between President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jin Ping to allow fishermen from both countries to operate in the Recto Bank could not be a basis for an impeachment complaint.

Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima challenged the Duterte administration to make public the “secret deal” Duterte entered with China allowing the Chinese to fish in the country’s EEZ.

She pointed out that no executive agreement or even international treaty can supersede the Philippine

Constitution because the power to enter into executive agreements and international treaties is derived from it.

“Duterte’s admission that he struck a deal with China in 2016 allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in our EEZ is a shocking revelation,” she said.

“This means that Duterte secretly entered into a bilateral fisheries agreement that should properly have been the subject of an international treaty because it lays down new policy not established by legislation,” she added.

On June 26, Duterte reportedly said he cannot bar Chinese fishermen from fishing in the Philippines’ EEZ in the South China Sea, locally referred to as the West Philippine Sea, due to a “mutual agreement” he made with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Panelo later confirmed that the agreement with China was “informal rather than documented” and “is being enforced in a way that we’re being allowed to fish there in the areas that fishermen could not at the time.”

Also on Tuesday, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio recused himself from the Supreme Court’s deliberation and resolution of the environmental protection case involving disputed shoals in the West Philippine Sea where Chinese fishermen have reportedly been harvesting marine resources.

Carpio said he voluntarily inhibited himself in the writ of kalikasan petition of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales seeking to compel the government to protect, preserve and rehabilitate the environment in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef during the Court’s en banc session on Tuesday.

SC spokesman Brian Hosaka said Carpio’s fellow magistrates approved his decision, changing his earlier decision not to inhibit himself from the case.

While the magistrate has actively campaigned against China’s incursion in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea and made public pronouncements to forward his cause, Carpio has not made any public statement on the arguments raised in this kalikasan petition.

“There is no compulsory ground to inhibit, but I voluntarily inhibited [myself] for the peace of mind of the SolGen (solicitor general),” he said, in a text message.

Carpio made his decision after Solicitor General Jose Calida sought his mandatory inhibition in this case last week due to alleged “personal bias and manifest partiality,” which the office said is shown by the senior magistrate’s “active participation in the South China Sea (SCS) arbitral proceedings” and his “continuing public pronouncements against the actions taken by the government in relation to the SCS Arbitral Award.”

Calida welcomed Carpio’s decision. “We thank him for inhibiting for reasons that he knows already. He was part of the legal team that handled the West Philippine Sea case. It’s just right he’s inhibiting [himself],” he said.

Two Supreme Court associate justices on Tuesday raised the possibility that the petition seeking to compel the government to protect disputed shoals in the West Philippine Sea may be politically motivated intended to embarrass the country.

Associate Justices Andres Reyes Jr. and Ramon Paul Hernando questioned the agenda behind the petition for writ of kalikasan and continuing mandamus filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines supposedly for fishermen from Palawan and Zambales seeking to protect, preserve and rehabilitate the environment in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef.

During interpellation of petitioners’ lawyers—Andre Palacios of IBP and Chel Diokno, Reyes said he believes the petition is “politically motivated to embarrass country.”

“Even if we say yes, how can the government guard the shoal 24 hours a day and spend money on that when we have other important things to do in this country?” he added.

He said the Court has no business in interfering in duties of the executive branch as the petitioners want.

“We cannot interfere in the management of the country,” he said.

Hernando shared Reyes’ opinion, saying the petition has the effect of holding former officials accountable for the incidents in 2012, 2013 and 2015 cited in the petition.

“That is where political color comes to play,” he said.

Hernando also asked the petitioners why they did not first check with the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources and other concerned agencies named respondents in the petition on the actions taken to protect the environment in WPS.

READ: China bucks 3rd party on Recto Bank probe

READ: Joint probe gets Rody's go-ahead

READ: Recto Bank is ours, SC justice insists, citing 1987 Constitution

Topics: Recto Bank , Salvador Panelo , Zhao Jianhua , Rodrigo Duterte , China vessel
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