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PH-China joint probe avoids poaching issue

The joint investigation by the Philippines and China into the June 9 will sidestep the question of whether the crew of the Chinese vessel that rammed and sank a Filipino fishing boat near the Recto Bank was engaged in poaching.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday said the joint inquiry would set aside the poaching issue, which should best be best addressed in another forum.

“The poaching issue is a collateral issue to the incident. The marine inquiry is not the proper forum to discuss this much broader economic issue. Other countries are involved—Vietnam, Taiwan, China and other coastal states with their own exclusive economic zones (EEZ),” Guevarra said.

Guevarra earlier said the Recto Bank is part of the country’s EEZ where it has sovereign rights--but not part of the Philippine territory where it has sovereignty.

“We only have sovereign rights to exploit the natural resources found therein,” he said.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 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.

Guevarra’s statement was a reaction to a call from Minority Leader Franklin Drilon that the Chinese vessel that rammed the Filipino boat should be made to pay $1.2 million for poaching inside Philippine territory.

Guevarra said the joint inquiry would focus only on two specific issues.

First, it will determine which party was at fault and the amount of restitution due to the offended party.

Second, the inquiry will answer whether there was any liability on the Chinese side for not extending help to the 22 Filipino fishermen who were left adrift after the incident.

Guevarra, who proposed the joint inquiry, reiterated that the government will also defer pursuing legal action against China and the Chinese fishermen until after the investigation.

The Justice Secretary admitted that while legal actions may be pursued under the UNCLOS, such an option was still premature at this point.

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Monday said if a joint inquiry is conducted, there should be a clear statement that the Philippines is not waiving its sovereign rights over the Recto Bank.

Lacson said agreeing to a joint investigation might be taken to mean the Philippines was effectively sharing concurrent jurisdiction over the Recto Bank with China.

“The 2016 Hague ruling expressly states that Recto Bank is part of the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ], and therefore cannot be claimed by China. Having said that, 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.

Lacson hit as inadequate and weak President Rodrigo Duterte’s reaction to the ramming by a Chinese vessel of a fishing boat manned by Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea.

“We know the attitude of the President—tough even towards priests, even the European countries, Canada on other issues. If we are to compare, relatively speaking, the President’s response to this issue was inadequate and lacking,” Lacson said.

He surmised this could be due to President Duterte’s desire to preserve friendly bilateral relations with China for economic reasons.

“But at what cost? The question is, what is more important, our sovereignty or economic gains? We all know the answer to that, of course,” he said.

He again questioned the wisdom of a joint investigation.

“Why are we going to share an investigation? First, our fishermen were disadvantaged. Second, we were inside our EEZ. “Why are we going to share an investigation? Let us conduct our own investigation and whether China will accept it or not, that’s another issue,” he said.

Drilon, who opposed a joint investigation, called instead for the creation of an independent commission to look into the ramming incident.

On Twitter, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he returned a check for P500,000 that former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario coursed through his office to help the 22 fishermen whose boat was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel.

“I have to return the P500,000 check donation or I shall be compelled to turn it over to Treasury,” Locsin tweeted.

“DFA cannot dispense donations. I certainly won’t turn it over to another department; that’s malversation. So with florid expressions of gratitude I had it returned to Del Rosario,” he said.

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Topics: Chinese vessel , Recto Bank , Menardo Guevarra , exclusive economic zones
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