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Philippines Rejects Joint Probe with Beijing on South China Sea Incident

Luis Liwanag and Basilio Sepe
Manila
2019-06-21
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Rescued Filipino fishermen sit inside the Philippine Navy ship BRP Ramon Alcuaz as they head back to shore at Occidental Mindoro province, Philippines, June 14, 2019.
Rescued Filipino fishermen sit inside the Philippine Navy ship BRP Ramon Alcuaz as they head back to shore at Occidental Mindoro province, Philippines, June 14, 2019.
AP

The Philippines on Friday rejected a proposal by Beijing for a joint investigation into the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a larger Chinese vessel in the disputed South China Sea, as Manila insisted on interviewing the Chinese crew.

An investigation into the June 9 incident, in which the Chinese ship allegedly rammed into the anchored Filipino boat near Recto Bank and left its 22 crew members afloat in the sea, was within Manila’s sole jurisdiction but Beijing could carry out its own probe, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.

“There will be no joint investigation. China and Philippines will conduct their respective investigations,” Locsin said in a message posted on Twitter.

“If we come up with a joint investigation, the terms should be clear. China has to allow us access to interview their fishermen, or vice versa,” he added.

The top Philippine diplomat was responding to a statement from China’s foreign ministry a day earlier.

“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,” Lu Kang, the ministry’s spokesman, told a news conference in Beijing on Thursday.

He said China attached “great importance to friendly relations with the Philippines and safety of personnel at sea.”

Lu Kang also reiterated Beijing’s sympathy to “Filipino fishermen who were in distress after the accidental collision” between the two fishing boats.

Filipinos take part in an anti-China protest in Manila, June 19, 2019. [Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]
Filipinos take part in an anti-China protest in Manila, June 19, 2019. [Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]


‘Can you claim an ocean as your own’

In the wake of the Philippine boat’s sinking, after which a Vietnamese boat rescued the Filipino fishermen and transported them to shore, Manila lodged a diplomatic protest against Beijing with the U.N.

In the meantime, nationalist groups here have criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for his apparent lukewarm stance over the incident.

Filipino activists have since staged anti-China protests. More of these rallies took place Friday outside the offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and at Manila’s Makati financial district.

Duterte played down the issue earlier this week. During a speech before Philippine Navy personnel he dismissed the incident at sea as an “an ordinary maritime traffic accident.”

“What happened [is] there is a collision. That is a maritime incident. Don’t believe stupid politicians. They want the Navy to go there. You do not send gray ships there. It’s just a collision, do not make it worse,” Duterte had said.

Nevertheless, officials from his administration said the Philippines likely would raise the issue in Bangkok, where Duterte and other leaders of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc were scheduled to meet at the weekend.

On Friday, the Philippine president warned Beijing that other nations could also start declaring ownership of the South China Sea.

Beijing claims most of the mineral-rich sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the maritime region.

“My question to China, we’re friends, but ... is it correct for China to declare ownership of an ocean?” Duterte said before leaving for the ASEAN summit in Thailand, according to DPA, the German news agency.

“It’s simple – can you claim an ocean as your own because tell me now, (and) I will also claim mine,” he added.

Politician blocked from entering Hong Kong

Among Filipino politicians who condemned the incident at sea was ex-Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario, who had lashed out at China as a country that could not be trusted.

On Friday, he was barred from entering Hong Kong, where immigration authorities stopped him from entering the territory to attend a business meeting.

Del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales had filed a complaint in May against Chinese President Xi Jinping with the International Criminal Court over what they alleged was Beijing’s systematic plan to gain control of the South China Sea.

Morales was earlier barred from entering Hong Kong during a family trip, and unceremoniously turned back.

“I think it’s beginning to look like plain and simple harassment,” del Rosario said Friday.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.

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