MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday (June 22) rebuffed his own top diplomat, as he accepted an offer from China to jointly probe the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese trawler early this month.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement that Mr Duterte wants “highly qualified and competent” representatives from the Philippines, China and a “neutral” country in a committee that will investigate the incident.
“To be clear, we are by no means relinquishing any inch of our sovereign rights, nor compromising the rights of our 22 fishermen. We are demanding justice for our countrymen, and we are using all legal means toward that end,” said Mr Panelo.
At midnight on June 9, steel-hulled trawler Yuemaobinyu 42212 from Guangdong province struck the stern of wooden outrigger fishing boat Gem-Vir, which had dropped anchor at Reed Bank, a vast but shallow seamount in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The Gem-Vir sank. But the Chinese trawler, instead of rescuing the boat’s crew of 22 men, just sailed on. A Vietnamese fishing boat later plucked the crew out of the water and handed them over to a Philippine navy ship.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, at a briefing on Thursday, proposed a joint probe so that both countries can “exchange respective findings and properly handle the matter through friendly consultations”.
But Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodor Locsion shot that down.