Ex-DFA Chief hits possible joint PH-China probe on Recto Bank incident

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — A former Foreign Affairs official cautioned against a joint investigation into the Recto Bank incident that is being floated by both the Philippine and Chinese governments.

Ex-Secretary Albert del Rosario on Friday said the Philippines should not agree to the suggestion of China to hold a joint investigation into the incident where a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino boat and abandoned the 22 local fishermen because the East Asian giant is the oppressor in this case.

"It redounds to a potential partnership between one party — Philippines who is out to seek the truth — against another party — China, the bully — who is out to suppress it... Can we please not insult the intelligence of our people?" he said in a statement.

He said the already-aggrieved fishermen will further be on the losing end if the joint probe pushes through.

"We should really feel sorry for our poor fishermen as the ultimate product of a joint probe with Beijing is expected to be no more than a bowl of fruit salad," del Rosario said.

Chinese government on Thursday proposed the joint probe because this is the key to finding a "proper solution" to the June 10 incident at near Recto Bank, an underwater feature being claimed by both Manila and Bejing.

It is also being proposed by some Philippine government officials, including Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who is also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte is "in favor" of a joint investigation.

"We should pursue this approach. This joint inquiry may also serve as the forum wherein accountabilities may be determined and allocated, and restitution or reparation, if due, may be effected," Guevarra said.

The Philippine Coast Guard — tasked to conduct the investigation into the incident — has finished its probe. But its spokesperson Armand Balilo said refused to disclose the results, saying it has yet to "harmonize" the findings with that of Maritime Industry Authority. He added he personally discourages the proposal for a joint probe.

"Kung ako ang tatanungin, personally gusto kong puntahan yung marine casualty investigators ng International Maritime Organization (IMO), 'yung third party, para walang bias sa anumang bansa," he said on Thursday.

The Philippines had made an "appeal" before the IMO, a London-based specialized agency of the UN that focuses on the safety, security, and environmental impact of international shipping. Both the Philippines and China are member states of the organization.

Pending investigation results, the top officials of both countries are calling it an accident.