Duterte may raise Recto Bank incident at ASEAN Summit – DFA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 18) — President Rodrigo Duterte may possibly touch on the Chinese fishermen's ramming of a Philippine boat at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Thailand, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday.

The incident wherein a Chinese vessel rammed a Philippine fishing boat and abandoned 22 local fishermen in the open sea of Recto Bank could be discussed in "general terms" during the talk on regional and international developments, DFA Assistant Secretary Junever Mahilum-West said.

Duterte will attend the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand from June 22 to 23. He is expected to attend the summit plenary, gala dinner, leaders' retreat, and the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit.

The issue on the South China Sea isn't traditionally discussed during the summit proper, but it can be raised during the dinner or retreat.

Mahilium-West said the issue on South China Sea is expected to be discussed by the state leaders, wherein the Recto Bank incident may also be tackled. But she said that with the "major pending factors," such as the ongoing investigation into the incident and the diplomatic protest filed by the Philippines, the summit may not be the right time to discuss it.

"In the meantime that these major factors are pending, I think it would be premature of me to say that we will raise the issue at the summit," she said in a media briefing.

The DFA official added, "Mayroong ibang forums where we are dealing with this issue."

Senator Panfilo Lacson urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to bring up the issue during the summit to have a united front against China.

"It would be good for us and other claimant countries to band together once again to stand as one, 'di ba? Kasi ang kaharap natin dito giant eh. So we need as many Davids as we may need kasi we’re facing a Goliath... Kapag summit, it’s up to the DFA to bring it up," he told CNN Philippines' "The Source" on Tuesday.

South China Sea code of conduct

The DFA underscored the need to finish the South China Sea code of conduct (COC) following the ramming incident.

"Precisely why we need a code, so these incidents can be taken on board so we'll have guidelines on how to act in order to prevent these incidents that might cause tension in the region," Mahilum-West said.

She said the incident will be among those on the agenda during the COC negotiations with ASEAN member states and China.

The assistant secretary said the first reading of the COC is expected to be finished before yearend.

The COC outlines what claimant countries can and cannot do in the global waterway. Four of the ASEAN member states have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiwan is also another claimant.

The Philippines is the country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations until 2021. The regional bloc has since expressed concern over China's alleged militarization of the disputed region.