Rodrigo Duterte wishes China to guarantee Filipino fishers’ rights and safety, Malacañang stated yesterday. That shows China is boss. The President was referring to Recto Bank, in Philippine exclusive economic zone, where a Chinese steel vessel rammed a Filipino wooden boat. By Constitution and world law the Philippines is the one accountable in its maritime jurisdiction. But China always wants its way. Baselessly it claims the entire South China Sea, including Recto, as internal waters. Ships traversing even international portions must submit. When Manila cried that 22 Filipinos thrown overboard cruelly were left at sea, Beijing insisted the rammer had to avoid swarming by others. As Manila began to check on the victims, Beijing demanded joint investigation. Suggesting a third-party prober in case of disagreements, Beijing said no way.
Meanwhile the Chinese rammer is still out there – unpunished. Three weeks since identifying “Yuemaobinyu 42212” from Guangdong, the Chinese embassy has only denied any hit-and-run. No proof has been given of the supposed besiegement, a claim belied by independent satellite videos of Recto that night of June 9. No details have been released about the offender’s tonnage, captain or ownership. That it has returned to Philippine EEZ is possible. Duterte is allowing Chinese to fish there in the name of friendship. Unrepentant “42212” is like a specter ship raring to ram again. Lack of justice imbues it with impunity.
“Gem-Ver 1” was salvaged before sinking. The Philippines outlaws reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property. Even if it wrongly thinks that Recto is “traditional fishing ground of many countries,” the Philippine Coast Guard must file charges on behalf of the victimized fishermen and Filipino people. To withhold its findings and leak only that “Gem-Ver 1” technically erred in anchoring for the night is to shirk from its duty. The abandonment was criminal. Article 265 of the Revised Penal Code punishes an injurer’s failure to help on the spot the injured. China has equivalents of those laws. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which Manila and Beijing are signatories, further requires assistance to mariners in distress. Let the Chinese captain and crew justify their flight.
Poaching is illegal too. The Chinese embassy admitted that “42212” was purse-seine fishing in Recto. That is punishable under the Philippine Fisheries Code. Section 91 forbids “any foreign person, corporation, or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters.” Further, “the entry of any foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters shall constitute a prima facie evidence that the vessel is poaching in Philippine waters.” Violators face fine of $600,000 to $1,000,000, plus six years imprisonment.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources must sue and collect. It would look silly enforcing fisheries conservation on Filipinos but let aliens off the hook. Every year since 2011 the agency and its Muslim Mindanao regional office close for three months the Sulu Sea, Basilan Strait, and Sibuguey Sea from sardine fishing. That allows fish stocks to replenish. Mere selling, buying, or possession of banned fish is punishable. Small fishers can be fined P6,000, and commercial operators P500,000 if found to have even just one sardine. Jail time is six months to six years. The region’s 214,000 fisher families and all commercial herring catchers and canners comply. Livelihoods of Filipino fishers – the poorest of the poor – thus are protected. The US Navy was made to pay P87-million damage in 2014 for a ship grounding in Tubbataha Reefs. There is no reason to abet Chinese poachers.
At the rate it’s going, China’s preferred joint investigation is going nowhere. Manila and Beijing have not even begun to name the probers, much more how many, which laws apply, where to meet, etc. It seems they are waiting for Filipinos to forget. Meanwhile, Beijing will forge on with its decades-long goal to subsume the Philippines.