China broaches joint probe on boat ramming

China has proposed a joint investigation with the Philippine government of the ship-ramming incident where a Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat anchored near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea to achieve a “mutually recognized results” as soon a possible.

“To find a proper solution, we suggest a joint investigation at an early date so the two sides can exchange respective initial findings and properly handle the matter through friendly consultations based on mutually-recognized investigation results,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, in a statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

The Chinese official maintained that it was an “accidental collision” and that Filipino and Chinese fishermen “have long been friendly to each other, rendering mutual assistance to the best of their capabilities in times of need.”

“Once again, I would like to offer sympathy to the Filipino fishermen who were in distress after the accidental collision of a Chinese and a Filipino vessel in Liyue Tan, Nansha (the Chinese name for Recto Bank),” Lu said.

“We will continue to investigate the incident thoroughly and communicate with the Philippine side via bilateral channels,” he added.

On June 9, 22 Filipino crew were left adrift at the Recto Bank in the WPS after their fishing boat was rammed and sank by a Chinese vessel.

The fishermen claimed the Chinese vessel intentionally hit their boat and abandoned them.

However, after meeting with several Cabinet officials on Wednesday, the fishermen said the collision could have been an accident.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday suggested a joint probe as well, saying “legal action is, and should always be the last resort.”

“The DOJ [Department of Justice] will be awaiting the findings of the marine inquiry. One is being conducted already, and I am hoping that this could be done jointly with the Chinese side so whatever facts would be established would be mutually acceptable,” Guevarra said Thursday.

Guevarra said the proposal for a joint probe was made during a Cabinet cluster meeting in Malacanang.

“That’s my proposal. That is something for the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] to bring up to the attention of the Chinese side if they would prefer to conduct a joint inquiry with the Philippine side. I would prefer that so that there is only one investigation,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“It would be confusing if our findings and their findings are different, so why don’t they just conduct the investigation jointly?” he said.

A third party could help settle any disagreements, Guevarra added, without specifying who this party might be.

The investigation, Guevarra said, would be separate and distinct from the diplomatic steps being undertaken.

He said the Cabinet agreed to the proposal to be able to “establish the true facts, allocate responsibility for restitution, and adopt measures to prevent or avoid similar incidents in the future.”

A Vietnamese vessel rescued the 22 Filipino seamen after they were abandoned in the open water by the Chinese vessel.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. last week said he filed a diplomatic protest against the Chinese action of abandoning the 22 Filipino fishermen after their boat the F/B Gim-Ver 1 sank.

The DFA has also brought the matter of the abandonment of the Filipino fishermen to the International Maritime Organization.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has described the incident as an accidental collision of fishing boats at sea and said the Chinese government will “continue to earnestly investigate the matter.”

Nonetheless, it said Beijing is ready to enhance communication with Manila on the investigation so as to dispel mistrust and find out what actually happened.

China earlier said their vessel tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen but did not do so out of fear of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats in the area.

The line was picked up by the Palace—but it did not say why any of the Filipino boats that were allegedly in the area did not rescue the fishermen, who were eventually rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his Cabinet members have sought to play down the incident as “a little maritime accident.”

But Senator Richard Gordon blasted government officials for trying to bribe the Filipino fishermen with gifts to get them to change their story.

He said the gifts only cheapen and exploit the vulnerability of the fishermen and simply show utter disrespect for their dignity and dire condition.

“What the fishermen need right now are justice and respect from the Chinese and not the government trying to mollify them by giving them gifts, and showing it to the whole world too,” Gordon said.

He said the government should stick to its strongest position that the Chinese abandoned the fishermen and they should apologize for it.

The Chinese version of events was belied by the Vietnamese who rescued the Filipino fishermen, he added.

The senator was obviously miffed by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s press conference with the fishermen and concluding for them that their captain was no longer sure if the incident was intentional or an accidental collision.

Senator-elect Christopher Go, a former aide to the President, said the matter should be discussed by the two countries in a diplomatic manner.

“Should there be findings that there was a deliberate act to harm the Filipino fishing boat, the perpetrators should be made to answer for that,” he said. With PNA

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Topics: Recto Bank , West Philippine Sea , Department of Justice , Department of Foreign Affairs
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