DoJ chief pushes joint inquiry on boat sinking

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RICHARD Blaza (extreme left), the cook of the sunken F/B Gem-Vir 1, with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol. — PHILSTAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said he suggested a joint inquiry with China be conducted to probe the June 9 collision between a Chinese vessel and a Filipino fishing boat off Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

Mr. Guevarra said he suggested the joint inquiry during the Cabinet cluster meeting so the findings for the incident would be “mutually acceptable.”

“That’s my proposal so that’s something for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to bring up to the attention of the Chinese side if they would prefer to have, to conduct a joint inquiry with the Philippine side,” he told reporters.

“I would prefer that para isahan na lang kasi baka mamaya iba ‘yung finding nila, iba ‘yung findings ng side natin, ‘di magulo pa. So why don’t they just conduct it jointly,” he said.

(I would prefer that so there will only be one inquiry because maybe their findings would be different from our findings, there could be confusion).

“(I)’m hoping that this could be done jointly with the Chinese side para (so) whatever facts may be established will be mutually acceptable,” Mr. Guevarra said.

If there would be disagreement in the factual findings, the secretary said a “neutral third party” may be considered. A Chinese vessel allegedly rammed the Filipino boat F/B Gem-Vir 1 off Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on June 9 and abandoned the 22 Filipino crew members after the boat sank. The Filipino fishermen said they were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel.

Mr. Guevarra also said that “we cannot insist” if China does not agree with the joint inquiry, and the country will conduct its own probe.

He added that the DFA should be the one to communicate with China. “I’m not sure if they have done so at this time.”

President Rodrigo R. Duterte also described the collision and sinking of the Filipino boat as a “little maritime incident.”

Jonel Insigne, the captain of F/B Gem-Vir 1, said in media interviews last week that the ramming of their boat by the Chinese vessel was “intentional.”

But Mr. Insigne calibrated his remarks on Wednesday in the presence of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, who said the fishermen are now “uncertain” if the Chinese vessel intentionally rammed their boat.

Mr. Piñol went to Mindoro on Wednesday to meet the 22 fishermen and said 11 fiber-glass fishing boats and a P25,000 loan each will be provided to the crew members.

The Philippine Coast Guard is conducting its investigation on the incident.