DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is calling for a formal investigation into a collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and a Filipino fishing boat after the Chinese boat fled the scene and left the Filipinos “to the mercy of the elements.”
In a statement on Wednesday, June 12, Lorenzana said the collision between the Chinese boat and the F/B GIMVER 1 happened in the vicinity of the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea—the portion of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Filipino boat was anchored when the two vessels collided, he said.
“We denounce the actions of the Chinese vessel for immediately leaving the scene of the incident, abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen to the mercy of the elements,” Lorenzana said.
He said the crew of the GIMVER 1 was rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel that was nearby. The Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz, which Lorenzana said was on routine patrol in the area, was ordered to assist in the recovery of the sunken boat and its crew.
“We thank the captain and crew of the Vietnamese vessel for saving the lives of the 22 Filipino crew. However, we condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the suspected Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew,” he also said.
“This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people,” he said.
We call for the conduct of a formal investigation on the matter and for diplomatic steps be taken to prevent a repeat of this incident,” he also said.
The Philippine government has sought warmer ties with China and has been courting investments from the regional giant. Part of those warmer ties are a bilateral mechanism to thrash out issues in the South China Sea.
Recto Bank is among the areas that could be covered by a joint oil and gas exploration deal with China that Manila and Beijing are working on a framework for.
The Department of Energy suspended all drilling and exploration works in the West Philippine Sea in 2015 due to the territorial dispute with China.
In February 2018, the Philippines and China agreed to form a panel that would draft a framework on joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.
Representative-elect Alan Peter Cayetano (Taguig), while Foreign Affairs secretary, said that the Philippines wants a deal as good as the one on the Malampaya project, which is 65 km off Palawan.
“We desire a contract that’s as good or better than Malampaya… If we can have a deal that is as advantageous as Malampaya or better, what’s the difference if we are dealing with China?” Cayetano said.
The Chinese government had assured the Philippines that joint development would not affect the legal position of both countries on the dispute.
“Pending final settlement, China would like to conduct practical cooperation in various fields with parties concerned, including under the principle of shelving differences and seeking joint development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a press briefing in April 2018.