POSTSCRIPT / June 20, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Has our President been compromised?

HAS President Duterte been compromised in the course of his dealings with the Chinese?

There are just too many wide-awake Filipinos asking this disturbing question. It is high time it is posed publicly so, in fairness to the President, he will have the chance to answer it candidly and clearly.

We sense that the public wants an assurance directly from the President, although he may totally ignore the question. One of his subalterns had said that his boss “must never stoop to listening to the gutter.”

In whatever manner Mr. Duterte reacts, we are quite sure the question or its variations will keep cropping up to hound his presidency until a satisfactory answer is given or his veneer of pro-Chinese bias vanishes.

He could duck and demand a bill of particulars – although we see no need for that since he must be aware of the issues publicly raised in relation to his perceived pro-Chinese predisposition when handling China vs Philippines situations.

The most recent, we hope the last, situation is the ramming and sinking on June 9 by a Chinese vessel of a Filipino fishing boat with a 22-man crew in Philippine waters near Recto Bank some 85 nautical miles off Palawan.

It pains the fishermen and families to hear their President, after a week of silence, casting doubts on their recollection of that harrowing night of their boat’s sinking while giving more credence to Beijing’s version of the incident.

We expect his apologists jumping to lawyer for him despite his being capable of dispelling by himself suspicion that he has become – for whatever reason — vulnerable to pressure or manipulation by Chinese entities or China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping.

The President may simply ignore the issue, or his spokesman can just throw a curt “No, he has not been compromised!” We doubt, however, if such a dismissive response can put to rest the question arising from his demonstrated disposition to favor the Chinese in either-or situations.

 ‘It’s a felony to abandon people in distress’

THE PHILIPPINES reported to the United Nations on Monday the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat on June 9 near Recto Bank off Palawan, leaving its 22 crew distressed in the brine until Vietnamese fishermen saved them.

Speaking at the 25th anniversary of the coming into force of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. stressed that the “duty to render assistance” is enshrined in international law and in the International Maritime Organization’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and the IMO Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.

While officials back home were tossing around confusing statements on the Recto Bank “accident,” Locsin was telling the UN that “it is a felony to abandon people in distress, especially when we cause that distress.” His speech:

“The Philippines was one of the original signatories of UNCLOS in 1982, and ratified it two years later. Recently and famously, on the basis of UNCLOS it filed a carefully crafted and successful complaint at The Hague to clarify the legal situation in the South China Sea; to remove the confusion or the pretext of confusion on the part of those violating it.

“We have strongly supported and upheld UNCLOS because it provides a comprehensive legal regime for the oceans and the seas. As the ‘constitution of the oceans,’ it affirms the rule of law in maritime space. Rule of law must be adhered to by all States Parties in the belief that no one can thrive nor survive for long in anarchy. Whether international law can be enforced is another matter. And it doesn’t help that parties with the strength to enforce it — and who have invoked a lot the need for it — have not joined it.

“On 9 June 2019, a Philippine fishing vessel anchored in Recto Bank in Palawan, in the West Philippine Sea, sank after an incident with a Chinese vessel. The incident’s location is at an area within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

“The 22 Filipino crew were left in the water until a Vietnamese vessel took them on board. We are eternally in debt to our strategic partner, Vietnam, for this act of mercy and decency.

“The incident, to put it diplomatically, highlights the moral and possibly legal —though one wouldn’t wager on it — imperative of coming to the rescue of persons in distress at sea. Article 98 of UNCLOS explicitly provides for the ‘duty to render assistance’. This duty of the master of a ship is three-fold:

*To render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost;

*To proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him; and

*After a collision, to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers and, where possible, to inform the other ship of the name of his own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.

“The same categorical imperative is found in the IMO International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, as amended, and the IMO Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue to which we have appealed.

“It is the obligation of every member state of the UN and of the IMO to pay, not just lip service to these conventions but to observe them in real life-and-death situations. The rescue of persons in distress is a universally recognized obligation of people and governments; and in the civil law and, maybe even in common law, it is a felony to abandon people in distress; especially when we cause that distress; and more so when it is no bother at all to save them at no risk to oneself. While no sanction is available in international law, it should be a cause of some concern.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 20, 2019)

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