Defense chief rules out MDT, says collision an 'accident'

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DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana ruled out on Wednesday, June 19, suggestions to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States, saying the collision between a Chinese vessel and a Filipino fishing boat was an "accident".

"I think it's just an accident, based on information we got from the crew. Maybe the other side did not intend to bump them. 'Yun nga lang, iniwanan (nila ang mga Filipino fishermen),” he said in a forum in Manila on Wednesday.

In another interview after the forum, Lorenzana said the Chinese boat captain should apologize to the Filipino fishermen and compensate them.

"I think that would be appropriate, to demand (from) the ship captain to apologize and to make restitution for the damage," he said.

Lorenzana was the first to condemn the Chinese for abandoning the Filipino fishermen after their fishing boat F/B Gemver sustained major damage and sank near the Recto Bank, known internationally as Reed Bank, in the West Philippine Sea.

He said, however, that he does not think it proper to invoke MDT which, he said, is only for armed attack.

"MDT kasi is for armed attack. This one is not armed attack. It's purely an accident," Lorenzana said.

Under MDT, both the US and the Philippines are obliged to respond if any of their vessels, either military or civilian, are attacked in the South China Sea.

Recto Bank is still within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone but is also claimed by China, which is invoking the nine-dash line.

Despite a Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on July 12, 2016 that said China has no legal basis to claim the area and that it had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights, Chinese fishing boats have continued to operate in the area.

On June 9, 2019, F/B Gemver was anchored near Recto Bank when it was hit by a Chinese purse seine vessel. The Filipino boat was heavily damaged and sank.

Instead of rescuing the 22 Filipino fishermen, the Chinese fishermen fled the area. China later claimed they left because they were scared of being besieged by Filipinos.

Vietnamese fishermen later found the Filipinos clinging on to plastic barrels and pieces of wood from their damaged boat.

Read: How 10 Vietnamese fishermen rescued 22 Filipino fishermen

Manila, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.

The Philippine Navy was quick to declare that it was intentional on the part of the Chinese considering the Filipino boat was stationary.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has also brought up the incident during a Meeting of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in New York.

Separate investigations by Manila and Beijing have been launched.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who favors China, was silent on the issue for almost a week. When he made his first public comment on June 17, he downplayed the matter as a "maritime incident", eliciting further criticisms.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who had called for the implementation of the MDT, said in a statement of June 18 that the treaty may be used as a proactive and preemptive measure to justify US presence in the disputed seas and accomplish the balance of power to prevent a possible armed confrontation between Filipino and Chinese military.

"We should not wait for an armed aggression against our vessels to occur before we invoke the treaty. Proactive thinking by way of increased US presence in the area is logical because of the prevailing situation in the West Philippine Sea. As I said, what we are trying to accomplish is balance of power," Lacson said. (SunStar Philippines)


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