POSTSCRIPT / June 23, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Joint probe: Height of servility to China

PRESIDENT Duterte may just feed suspicion of him being subservient to China if he agrees to a joint investigation of the June 9 incident where a Chinese steel-hulled vessel hit and sank the Filipino wooden fishing boat Gem Ver near Recto Bank off Palawan.

Questions were raised about Mr. Duterte’s concern for the 22 Filipino crew when he waited one week before giving his assessment of the incident – which just turned out to be mostly following the Chinese line and departing from the original account of the sunken boat’s captain.

For the President to now agree to a China proposal for a joint investigation could firm up the impression that he is disposed to siding with Chinese in conflicts with Filipinos. Not a few concerned citizens are asking if Mr. Duterte has been compromised.

The President has adopted the Chinese position that what they first called a “collision” was just an accident, apparently without him also weighing observations that the incident followed a pattern of Chinese marine militia harassing fishing boats of neighbors.

The hit-and-run occurred in Philippine waters. Recto Bank is only 85 nautical miles off Palawan, within the 200-nm Philippine exclusive economic zone awarded in July 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on the basis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Chinese vessel had encroached into the Philippines’ EEZ some 600 nm from its base in Hainan. Its crew also did not follow a universal rule of helping people in distress at sea, aggravated by their being the reason for the 22 Filipino crew almost being killed.

The crimes committed fall under the primary and exclusive jurisdiction of Philippine courts. Local authorities, particularly the Coast Guard, have sprung to action to bring relief to the crew and investigate without waiting for any foreign counterpart to join in.

If it wants, China can conduct its own investigation, but must not expect, much less demand, a joint inquiry. It can submit its findings to Philippine authorities and use them to defend its nationals before local courts.

The conflict, btw, is not between the Philippine and the Chinese governments. The ramming, accidental or not, was committed by private individuals — unless the accusation made by some quarters can be proved that they were acting in a hostile manner as members of a marine militia.

To show good faith, China must produce before the courts the crew of Yuemaobinyu 42212. Anyway, with Mr. Duterte in Malacañang, they have nothing to fear about being denied their rights or treated in the same harsh way dissenters are prosecuted in China.

The proposal for a joint investigation, broached early on by a China foreign ministry spokesman, should be rejected outright. The Philippines should not allow a dilution of its exclusive authority to investigate and try crimes committed within its jurisdiction.

 If only Locsin would have his way…

WE were copyreading our draft when surprised by a tweet of Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. that, we hope, is a sign that the “joint investigation” idea being pushed by President Duterte and echoed by his chorus in the Cabinet is dead in the water.

Replying to a media query, Locsin said rather firmly on Twitter: “I’ve stated my view of this proposal; DFA will act on MY VIEW & no one else’s. I talked to ES Medialdea; Palace supports me. That’s that. Also I listen only to the DND and NSA. This is a matter beyond civilian agencies’ remit and falls well within the DFA’s, DND’s & NSA’s. Period.”

In a speech Monday at the United Nations in New York, Locsin also said: “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.”

Aside from thanking the Vietnamese fishermen who rescued the Filipinos, he stressed that the Chinese’s sailing away instead of aiding the distressed crew in the brine was a violation of international conventions on the Law of the Sea as well as that for the Safety of Life at Sea.

Wherever the law and the facts will lead the investigation and trial – assuming President Duterte will not block or divert any move to call the Chinese to account – the process should be one initiated and pursued by Philippine authorities.

Under the Philippines-China extradition treaty, the two states “agree to extradite to each other… any person who is found in the territory of the requested Party and who is wanted by the requesting Party for prosecution or for the imposition or enforcement of a sentence in respect of an offense described in Article 2.”

Article 2 refers to an offense “punishable under the laws of both Parties by imprisonment for a period of more than one year, or by a more severe penalty.” (The threshold being more than one year, maybe a minor case calling for a shorter jail term would be filed?)

Note that extradition (to the China mainland) of certain suspects in the special administrative region of Hong Kong was the same issue that triggered in the last two weekends of massive protest marches of residents in the former British colony.

Now it is Beijing that may be asked by Manila to extradite the crew of Yuemaobinyu 42212 to face trial in the Philippines.

But that is looking too far ahead. Even assuming that evidence is found against the Chinese crew despite the dropping of the joint investigation proposal, this observer does not think President Duterte would allow their prosecution.

Pardon our saying it, but if ever a trial ensues, the Yuemaobinyu 42212 crew — like the parade of other Chinese caught in flagrante with red-hot evidence to mount an illegal drug case — would likely go scot-free.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 23, 2019)

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