PH seeks resolution of Gem-Ver sinking in talks with China on S. China Sea

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 22 2021 02:01 PM | Updated as of May 22 2021 02:05 PM

PH seeks resolution of Gem-Ver sinking in talks with China on S. China Sea 1
The 22 Filipino fishermen of F/B Gem-Ver are aboard a Navy ship after the June 9 sinking of their boat by a Chinese vessel. Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— The Philippines and China on Friday tackled the possible conclusion of the incident where a Chinese ship rammed a Filipino vessel in Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea, as the two countries held its 6th bilateral meeting on the disputed South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said. 

In a statement, the DFA said the country highlighted the "progress" involving F/B Gem-Ver, a vessel that sank in waters within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea in 2019 by a Chinese militia vessel. 

The incident left 22 Filipino fishermen adrift at sea for hours. They were eventually rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

Negotiations on the matter, however, is supposedly slated in June, according to the DFA. 

"Philippines highlighted the progress made in the settlement of the Gem-Ver allision issue involving a Philippine fishing boat and a Chinese vessel. The... Department of Justice (DOJ) will take the lead in seeking just compensation for the victims in negotiations to be held next month," the statement read. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in 2019 said the owner and crew members of the Philippine boat sought an estimated P12 million in damages. They already submitted the report to the DFA.

A private Chinese association earlier gave a boat to the Filipino crewmen, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

The 3 working groups of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea also discussed issues and "possible areas of cooperation" during the meeting, as they were supposedly "encouraged" by the positive developments. 

'EASING TENSIONS'

Aside from these, the agency described the day's meeting as "friendly and candid," centered on the importance of resolving issues through dialogue despite rising tensions in the waters. 

The Philippines also reiterated its "long-standing call for full respect and adherence to international law" such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the "final and binding" 2016 ruling by a UN-back court that invalidated China's 9-dash line claim. 

Beijing has rejected the decision and ramped up island-building and militarization in the waters. President Rodrigo Duterte recently called the ruling a mere piece of paper that belongs to he waste bin. 

"There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area," according to the statement. 

"Both sides acknowledged the importance of addressing differences in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality to pave the way for practical cooperation and initiatives," it added. 

Foreign Affairs Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations Elizabeth Buensuceso led her agency during the meeting. Her counterpart was Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao. 

Also present during the 6th bilateral talks were officials from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Security Council, Department of National Defense, Philippine Coast Guard, and the Department of Justice. 

The two nations established the BCM on the South China Sea in 2017 to discuss confidence-building measures and promote maritime security and cooperation.

Manila and Beijing's spat flared again in March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines' EEZ.

The BFAR in late April called on Filipino fishermen to swarm the West Philippine Sea, from which the country sources 324,000 metric tons of fish annually.

The DFA has filed a flurry of diplomatic protests to demand China's withdrawal from Philippine territory. Meanwhile, Duterte has downplayed China's incursions as he pursued friendly ties in exchange for investments and infrastructure funding.

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