By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star
Crewmen Marcelino Damian and German Balmores
show the injuries they suffered after their fishing
boat was rammed by an unidentified vessel off
Bolinao, Pangasinan last week.
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, Philippines – A deeper investigation is needed to determine the identity of the foreign vessel that rammed a Philippine fishing boat near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal last week, President Aquino said yesterday.
The incident, which occurred north of the shoal, left one Filipino fisherman dead and four others missing. The Philippine fishing boat came from Bolinao, Pangasinan.
“We are not accusing anybody at this point in time. So ngayon, huwag muna tayong magsabing kasalanan ni Pedro, ni Juan, ni Maria, kung sinuman habang walang ebidensya (So let’s not put the blame on Peter, John, Mary or whoever until there is evidence),” Aquino told reporters in a chance interview at the Benguet State University here.
He said appropriate charges would be filed only after “necessary evidence” has been gathered.
“We can go to the appropriate fora to file the necessary charges for justice for our fishermen. But there is an investigation, determination of cause and of who is at fault. Then after all of this investigation, then that tells us where we will proceed,” Aquino said.
He said he would leave it up to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) to take care of the needs of the survivors who were brought to a hospital for hypothermia.
The President said he felt no need to visit the survivors at the moment. “Visiting them might just complicate things because I won’t be able to talk to them anyway, so there’s no point. The DSWD, and initially the NDRRMC, are taking care of them. We can get updates from them,” he said in Filipino.
“We are conducting operations to recover the four, to hopefully save the four who are still missing. We are gathering all of the necessary evidence,” Aquino said here, where he helped swear in some 300 new members of the ruling Liberal Party.
The Chinese embassy in Manila also said reports of the incident “remain to be verified.”
“Upon seeing the stories, the Chinese embassy immediately checked with the relevant authorities in China and was told that up until now there have been no reports of vessel collision accident or SOS requests on the reported dates and in the reported waters,” embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua said in a statement posted on the embassy website.
“Someone reportedly said that the Philippine fishing boat was ‘rammed by Chinese vessel.’ We wonder what that news story was based upon. We hope relevant persons can verify the facts with a responsible attitude before they report,” he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also said there was no confirmation if it was a Chinese vessel that rammed the Filipino fishing boat.
“The Philippine Coast Guard is still investigating the incident,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, for his part, said Chinese vessels have pulled out of Panatag Shoal.
“Based on coordination with the Philippines and China, as of two days ago, we have received information that all boats have left the lagoon in Bajo de Masinloc,” Del Rosario said yesterday.
“There are no longer any boats from either the Philippines or China inside the shoal,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said on Sunday that four of the eight fishermen were plucked out of sea last Saturday.
One of them – Christopher Carbonnel – died at the Gabriela Silang General Hospital in Vigan City. Still missing are Fred Celino, Arnold Garcia, Domy de los Santos and Amante Resonable.
Still confined at the Gabriela Silang Hospital were Edimio Balmores, 41; Celino Damian, 32; and Herman Balmores, 51.
The motorized fishing boat AXL John was anchored in a payaw or fish sanctuary, when it was rammed by an unidentified vessel, which reportedly had Chinese markings.
In Angeles City, a group of militant fishermen said the Philippines and China should launch a joint investigation into the incident.
“It is in the highest interest of the Filipino and the Chinese people to have this incident investigated and resolved. It is also in the highest interest of the Chinese and Filipino people to have this conflict put to an end through diplomatic channels and avoid a possible shooting war between the Philippines and China in West Philippine Sea,” said Salvador France, vice chairman of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).
Pamalakaya, together with Anakpawis party-list, urged Philippine and Chinese officials to “sit down in an honest-to-goodness meeting that would determine the truth, deliver justice to Filipino fisherfolk victims and earnestly settle this long-running dispute through diplomatic resolutions.”
The group lamented China’s “display of sheer arrogance and the Aquino administration’s provocative statements as scripted by the US government.”
Pamalakaya said it is contemplating filing its own diplomatic protest against Beijing, asserting that “China violated the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity when its fishing vessel rammed the Philippine fishing boat inside Bolinao’s municipal waters.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also said China should investigate the incident and exert effort to “de-escalate” the situation if it would be proven that its ship was the culprit.
“This has to be carefully investigated and if true, we from Bayan Muna are calling on China to de-escalate the situation and identify the ship responsible and surrender its crew or captain,” he said.
Colmenares said the crew of the foreign ship violated international law by not helping the Filipino fishermen in distress.
“To avoid further escalation of the situation, it is imperative that we immediately file a case on the Panatag Shoal issue with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and invoke the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” he said.
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) also voiced concern over the incident.
“We call on P-Noy to take all necessary measures to protect the lives and property of our Filipino fishermen from encroaching foreign vessels in Philippine waters,” said Dante Jimenez, VACC founding chairman and president.
“Let us not allow the Chinese to bully us,” Jimenez said.
He said the VACC is eyeing the filing of a case against Chinese officials before the International Criminal Court in Geneva.
Panatag Shoal is just 124 miles from Palauig town in Zambales province and more than 400 miles from the nearest Chinese land mass.
A standoff involving Philippine and Chinese vessels at Panatag Shoal erupted in April when Chinese ships prevented Philippine Navy sailors from arresting Chinese fishermen caught poaching in the area. The poachers eventually were able to slip away with their illegal harvest of endangered corals, giant clams, and live sharks. With Eva Visperas, Jaime Laude, Ding Cervantes, Teddy Molina, Sandy Araneta, Jess Diaz, Pia Lee-Brago, Artemio Dumlao