MANILA, Philippines — An independent third party should conduct the investigation on the June 9 sinking of a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank, Vice President Leni Robredo said yesterday.
Robredo added she is against the planned joint investigation by China and the Philippines on the incident, in which Chinese trawler Yuemaobinyu 42212 hit and sank the fishing boat Gem-Vir (Gem Ver) 1, leaving the 22 Filipino fishermen floating in the sea for four hours.
“I’m not confident… the main issue here is because (China) continued to bully us. That’s the reason why I am not confident with a bilateral talk,” the Vice President said over dzXL.
“What we want is multilateral. Apart from the investigation to be conducted separately by both countries, we hope that there is a private, third party, who will investigate on the incident too without biases,” she said.
Robredo said a third party investigation would be neutral and based solely on the accounts of the people involved.
“A joint investigation is difficult, because we’re unsure if the truth will really come out,” she said.
President Duterte has accepted Beijing’s proposal for a joint investigation of the June 9 collision in Recto Bank, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Lawmakers however said a joint investigation with China could jeopardize the Philippines’ maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“I am opposed to a joint investigation with China. We should not allow it. The law is on our side. There are clear violations of international treaties and our local laws committed by the Chinese vessel. A joint investigation will only serve their interest, not ours,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.
“A joint investigation would derogate our jurisdiction and prejudice our claim in the WPS,” he said.
Drilon said the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration agreed with the country’s claim that China has unlawfully interfered with the enjoyment and exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines with respect to the resources of its EEZ. Recto Bank is part of the country’s EEZ.
He lamented how “the country’s laws are taking a backseat in favor of China.”
Drilon stressed there is no need for a joint probe as the incident happened within the country’s territory and “the facts were clearly established.”
“All that is left for the government to do is to implement and execute our laws. Sadly, our laws were put in the backseat in favor of China, ” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson shared Drilon’s opinion, saying allowing a joint investigation with China and a third party “may be interpreted as a waiver of our right of ownership of Recto Bank.”
Lacson said the issue must be clarified first before the Duterte administration proceeds with a joint probe.
“While the intention of this administration may be laudable in trying to preserve our country’s bilateral relations with China, presumably for political and economic reasons in order to uplift the living standards of our people, we should also consider the more important issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan lamented the apparent lack of haste by the administration to investigate the incident that it also belittled as a “little maritime incident.”
He said the Recto Bank incident was covered by provisions of the Fisheries Code.
Outgoing Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV also opposed any joint probe, saying if there will be any entity outside the country that may do so, it would be the International Maritime Organization.
On the other hand, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian favored the inclusion of a third party investigator to add credibility to the probe.
After initially rejecting the joint probe, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Saturday said Brunei could be the third party in the joint probe.
“It’s a maritime inquiry with an independent third party, [for example], Brunei,” Locsin said on Twitter.
Locsin and former chief justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said the joint investigation plan is an “act of overt surrender of our sovereignty.”
“Henceforth, any injury to any Filipino – whether fisherfolk, tourist, science researcher, student, soldier – caused by a foreign vessel or national in Philippine waters, can henceforth be decided by foreign countries, with the Philippine government itself but a participant,” Sereno said.
Locsin, who earlier filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing over the incident, shared this belief.
He said on Twitter that “a joint investigation trenches on each other’s sovereignty.”
Locsin said there would be no joint investigation, saying Manila and Beijing should conduct separate investigations over the incident.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said the Philippines is not surrendering its sovereignty in the imminent joint investigation with China on the June 9 incident in Recto Bank.
Guevarra rebutted the opinion of critics that the joint investigation approved by President Duterte and the Chinese government would violate each country’s sovereignty.
“There is no issue of sovereignty involved in the investigation of this marine or navigation incident at sea. Our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) is not part of Philippine territory,” Guevarra explained in a text message.
Guevarra, who was first to reveal the proposal to conduct the joint investigation last week, made a distinction between sovereignty and sovereign rights under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) and international laws.
He stressed that Recto Bank, being part of the country’s EEZ in the South China Sea, is covered by sovereign rights of the Philippines, not by its territory.
“We only have sovereign rights to exploit the natural resources found therein,” Guevarra said.
Under the UNCLOS, sovereignty pertains to the exclusive legal authority of a state over its waters, particularly its internal waters and territorial seas. The state essentially has territorial sovereignty over these waters.
On the other hand, “sovereign rights” pertain to “limited” entitlements or privileges of a state to its EEZ.
Article 56 of UNCLOS provides that a state has sovereign rights in its EEZ for the purpose of “exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources… of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds.”
But having sovereign rights over a particular area does not confer sovereignty and is not tantamount to a sovereign territory.
Guevarra further explained the joint inquiry only intends to answer factual issues that could help resolve the incident and serve justice to the aggrieved party, particularly the 22 Filipino fishermen who were left afloat after their fishing boat was hit by a Chinese vessel.
“The only issues in the joint inquiry are – which party was at fault for the incident and the amount of restitution due to the offended party, and whether there was any liability on the Chinese side for leaving the scene of the incident without extending help to the Filipino fishermen,” he pointed out.
Malacañang also rejected the opposition stand and announced the President has given the go-signal for the joint probe.
Guevarra revealed the Cabinet will further discuss the joint investigation plan with President Duterte once he returns from the ASEAN summit in Thailand today.
Also to be decided is who will represent the Philippine side in the tri-party inquiry.– Edu Punay, Paolo Romero
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