THE Philippines on Monday assured Vietnam it will conduct a fair and thorough investigation into the deaths of two Vietnamese fishermen during a sea chase involving the Philippine Navy off the coast of Pangasinan on Saturday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano gave the assurance to Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh during the Asean Informal Foreign Ministers Meeting at the United Nations in New York hours after the incident.
“We would like to offer our sympathies over the unfortunate loss of life and give you our assurance that we will conduct a fair and thorough investigation into this matter,” Cayetano told Minh.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry urged Philippine authorities to “take strict action” if any mistakes by Philippine forces were found.
The DFA said that investigating teams from the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police have already been dispatched to Pangasinan to look into the incident.
Cayetano, at the same time, assured Minh that the five other Vietnamese fishermen who were taken into custody will be accorded proper treatment and that they can be accessed anytime.
He said the DFA in Manila is in touch with officials of the Vietnamese Embassy to update them on developments and facilitate their access to their nationals, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
The DFA said it received reports that Saturday’s incident involved a Navy patrol vessel and six Vietnamese fishing boats that it encountered fishing within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, 34 nautical miles off Cape Bolinao.
According to the reports, the Navy patrol boat, which was then en route to Subic, went after the Vietnamese fishing vessels.
In the ensuing chase, one of the Vietnamese boats initiated dangerous maneuvers that resulted in it slamming into the left front and left center of the Philippine patrol vessel.
The reports said this prompted personnel on board the Navy vessel to fire warning shots and when the Navy personnel boarded the fishing vessel, they found two dead Vietnamese fishermen. Five others surrendered and were taken into custody.
The five fishermen in custody would face poaching charges as they were within Philippine waters, Lt. Jose Covarrubias said.
“The Navy ship spotted the six fishing boats (which were) using bright lights to attract fish. While it was chasing the boats, one boat maneuvered and hit our vessel,” said Covarrubias.
“The officers boarded and searched the boat, resulting in the apprehension of the five and they found the two dead bodies.”
A police report released Monday said it found gunshot wounds on the bodies of the two fishermen while their vessel sustained six bullet holes.
The fishermen’s bodies would undergo an autopsy, the report said.
Foreign fishermen have often been caught trespassing in Philippine waters. Last year President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the release of 17 Vietnamese fishermen caught in his nation’s waters.
In 2013 the Philippines apologized to Taiwan over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coastguards who said his vessel had illegally sailed into local waters.
Taiwan suspended the hiring of Philippine workers and recalled its de facto representative to Manila in protest. With AFP