LP senators slam PH-China joint probe into Recto Bank incident

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 23) — Opposition senators from the Liberal Party have lambasted the Philippines and China's planned joint investigation into the boat allision at Recto Bank.

This comes after President Rodrigo Duterte accepted Saturday China's proposal to conduct a joint probe into the June 9 incident wherein a Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat in the disputed area. Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were abandoned and remained afloat for several hours until they were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

READ: Duterte says Philippines, China, 'neutral country' should jointly probe Recto Bank allision

In separate statements released Sunday, Senators Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan and Franklin Drilon said the joint probe is against the fisheries code and will weaken the country's territorial claims on the West Philippine Sea.

Republic Act 10654, or the amended Fisheries Code, prohibits any foreign person, corporation or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters. Research and survey activities, however, are allowed under strict regulations.

Drilon said the Chinese vessel could be slapped with a fine of up to $1.2 million for violating this policy.

“I am opposed to a joint investigation with China. We should not allow it. The law is on our side. There are clear violations of international treaties and our local laws committed by the Chinese vessel. A joint investigation will only serve their interest, not ours,” Drilon said.

He lamented how “the country’s laws are taking a backseat in favor of China.”

“There is no need for a joint investigation. The incident happened within our territory and the facts were clearly established. All that is left for the government to do is to implement and execute our laws," the senator said.

Meanwhile, Pangilinan—LP's president—said the joint probe is "disadvantageous to our national interests."

"It will never be a fair investigation when one is the oppressed and the other is the oppressor. When one is the victim and the other is the perpetrator," he said.

Pangilinan called on the government to "hasten" its investigation into the incident.

"We have so far only heard statements after statements from our officials, some even conflicting, yet we are yet to see an actual investigation push through. Not having a firm stand on this issue would set an unfortunate precedent in future cases when our fishermen might face the same risks in our own waters," he said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros has earlier expressed her disapproval of the joint investigation, saying it is bound to favor the Asian giant.

"Any joint probe with an evasive Chinese government will be, quite literally, lutong makaw," Hontiveros said in a statement Saturday.

“If China only intends to whitewash the incident and is unwilling to bring her erring citizens to justice for their acts, then any joint probe will be an exercise in futility,” she said.