PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is amenable to the proposed joint investigation by the Philippines and China into the sinking of a Filipino fishing vessel and abandonment of its crew near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said Thursday, June 20.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), however, rejected the suggestion.
In a Twitter post on Friday, June 21, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippine government prefers a separate probe.
"There will be no joint investigation. China and Philippines will conduct their respective investigations," Locsin said.
On Thursday, June 20, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang suggested a joint investigation with the Duterte government on the Recto Bank incident to come up with a "mutually-recognized results."
"The President welcomes a joint investigation and an early resolution of the case. We will await a formal communication from the Chinese Embassy," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a text message.
A day earlier, China branded as "irresponsible" and "counter-constructive" the supposed political interpretations on the incident that sparked outrage among Filipinos and prompted the Philippine government to file a "strongly worded" diplomatic protest.
"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," the Chinese official said.
On June 9, 2019, Filipino fishing boat F/B Gemver was anchored near Recto Bank when it was rammed by a Chinese light purse seine vessel. The wooden boat sustained major damage and sank.
Instead of rescuing the 22 Filipino fishermen, the Chinese fled the area. A Vietnamese boat later came to the rescue of the Filipinos.
Recto Bank is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which China is also claiming to be part of the South China Sea.
A Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on July 12, 2016, however, said China has no legal basis to claim any part of the Philippines’ EEZ and that it had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights.
Duterte, who has been partial to China, downplayed the incident even as Senator Panfilo Lacson called on the administration to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States.
Panelo, in a separate statement issued on Friday, insisted that the 67-year-old defense pact could not be invoked, on the grounds of initial investigation on the incident.
"I shot down the proposal by saying that the treaty cannot apply, simply because there is no armed aggression committed by China, adding that it was reckless and premature because we do not know yet what happened at the Reed Bank,” Panelo said.
He also made it clear that he was not acting like a "defense lawyer of China”.
"The perception that my pointing out of certain circumstances surrounding the Reed Bank incident previously unknown to us, creates the impression that I’m acting as China’s counsel, is sheer non sequitur as well as a shallow analysis of my examination of the incident," he said.
"While we are friendly to all countries and enemies to none, we remain steadfast in asserting and protecting our sovereignty against any assault and/ or intrusion from whatever source. Our sovereignty, we repeat, is non-negotiable," he added.
Panelo maintained that the government is hoping for a "satisfactory and principled end to the issue.” (SunStar Philippines)