PH gov't to help Gem-Ver fishermen file claim, case vs Chinese crew

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 30) — The Philippine government on Friday said it is ready to extend help if the abandoned Filipino fishermen decide to file monetary claim and criminal case against the Chinese crew that rammed their boat in the country's waters.

Presidential spokesperson Sal Panelo said they will assist the 22 Gem-Ver fishermen if they want to claim monetary compensation from the owner of the Chinese vessel. He added the Chinese crew can be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property for ramming the Filipino vessel in Recto Bank on June 10.

"The fishermen, if you're listening, we can help you in filing your claim. And if you are interested in pursuing a criminal case, we will assist you, too," he said in a media briefing in Beijing, China.

Panelo also clarified that Malacañang did not accept the apology issued by the owner of the Chinese vessel, despite clearly saying that "we accept the recent apology."

"We accept the fact of the apology. The letter of apology was addressed to the fishermen so we're accepting that fact of the apology," he said.

The owner of the Chinese vessel finally apologized on August 26 — almost three months after — but called the hitting and sinking an "accidental collision." The apology came just days before President Rodrigo Duterte left for Beijing for his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The apology letter released by the DFA failed to mention the Chinese crew's "callous abandonment" of 22 Filipino fishermen who were forced to float in the open sea for hours before they were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel, a situation that was the subject of a protest by the Philippines. The memorandum said "it was fortunate that there were no casualties."

A joint investigation report of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority concluded that it was a "very serious" marine incident, noting that the Chinese vessel could have - but failed to - take action to avoid the risk of the collision. Despite the report, President Rodrigo Duterte insisted it was a "little maritime incident."