MALACAÑANG ON Monday said the Philippine government will insist on the liability of the Chinese vessel that abandoned Filipino fishermen after an allision incident at the Recto Bank on June 9.

Several senators also called for sanctions against the Chinese crew after a joint report by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) found them liable for the incident for failing to take “appropriate action to avoid the risk of collision and render assistance to a vessel in distress.”

The report also labeled the incident as a “very serious marine casualty due to the total loss of the ship.”

In a press briefing at the Palace on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo was asked if the Philippine government will “insist on the liability” of the Chinese vessel for abandoning the 22 Filipino fishermen.

He replied, “Definitely, kung (if) — as I said, there is only one way by which they can justify the abandonment of our fisherfolks. And that is if by so doing, their lives would have been endangered. That’s the only reason na pupuwede silang hindi (that they cannot be made) accountable,” citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Asked how the Chinese nationals will be held accountable, Mr. Panelo said the matter will be up to the Chinese government because the vessel is “under its jurisdiction.”

He also noted that the Chinese government has already said in its initial statement on the incident that “they will impose sanction for their irresponsible behavior” if proven so.

If China fails to deliver on its promise, Mr. Panelo said the Philippine government “will sue” the Chinese nationals “in our jurisdiction.”

At the Senate, Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the PCG-Marina report should first be publicized and should be used as basis in the filing of cases as well as liabilities under the fisheries code.

“I call on Malacañang to officially release the Coast Guard-Marina report; number two, the Marina-Coast Guard report can be the basis of the action for damages under the fisheries code,” he told reporters in a briefing on Monday.

“Even if we could not identify the crew, we could start with identifying the vessel,” he said, later noting that the Chinese government, for their part, could assist in identifying the owner, captain and crewmen of the vessel.

He also raised the significance of asserting the findings of the report, as this will reinforce the Philippines’ claims over the Recto Bank.

“It is important because non-action on the coast guard marina report can be interpreted as an acquiescence. We may not be able to completely impose our laws because of limitations, but the fact that we are acting on the incident will be an argument that will favor us in the future, when we continuously defend our position that the Recto Bank is part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” Mr. Drilon said.

Senator Ronald M. dela Rosa, in a separate interview with reporters, also said the Chinese crewmen should be held liable.

Kasuhan ang gumawa n’yan (File charges against those who committed that),” he said, noting that in failing to make an assertion in this case, the government is opening the possibility of similar incidents in the future.

Meanwhile, Mr. Panelo also said that the two countries will have to compare the results of the investigations they conducted separately.

Sabi ni [Foreign Affairs] Secretary [Teodoro L.] Locsin, [Jr.] (said), they’re going to compare our findings as against their findings, then they will issue a joint statement,” he said.

The joint statement, he said, will contain the resolution of three issues: “one, the nature of the incident; number two, the accountability of the Chinese vessel; and the issue on compensation.”

If the two findings are different, Mr. Panelo said: “Eh di pag-usapan natin kung (Then we will talk about) how can we resolve the difference.”

In a media interview at the Palace late Monday, Mr. Duterte maintained that the Recto Bank incident is “very small” because “nobody died.”

He added that he will further explain his position about letting the Chinese fish in the Philippine’s EEZ, which has been slammed by legal experts and critics as unconstitutional.

“You wait, maybe sa (during the) SONA (State of the Nation Address), I will educate na ‘yung ginawa ko sabi ko (about what I said that), ‘You can fish’. Tama talaga ako. At hindi maging unconstitutional ‘yan (I am really correct. And that will not be unconstitutional).”

“We have our recommendations, we have our report. Then we will wait for China to make its report, then we can compare notes,” the President said. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Charmaine A. Tadalan