Gov't urged: Raise Recto Bank 'hit-and-run' before international community

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 17 2019 11:51 AM | Updated as of Jun 17 2019 12:29 PM

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MANILA -- The Philippines should raise before the international community the sinking of a Filipino boat by a Chinese vessel to gain leverage over Beijing, a lawyer who helped challenge the Asian giant's claims to the South China Sea said Monday. 

Manila has "very limited enforcement powers" over its Exclusive Economic Zone that covers Recto (Reed) Bank, where the Chinese trawler rammed and abandoned the sinking boat of 22 Filipino fishermen last June 10, said former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay. 

"The way to exert some leverage over China in this matter is by internationalizing the issue... If we complain about the matter and China doesn't do anything about it, then there's a reputational cost it will have to pay: China becomes lawless in the eyes of the international community," he told ANC. 

"China doesn't want to be portrayed as a lawless superpower. It wants to have, as an anchor for everything it does, some veneer of legality," he added. 

Hilbay was the top lawyer of the previous Aquino administration, which filed an arbitration against Beijing before a UN-backed court that in 2016 invalidated its sweeping claims over the South China Sea. 

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin last week said he had lodged a diplomatic protest with China over the sinking. 

However, "nobody knows the content of the protest," said Hilbay. 

Filing the protest was a "right step, but that should have been followed by the appropriate investigation, both on the Chinese side and the Philippine side," said Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea. 

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Locsin, for his part, rejected the suggestion of a Twitter follower to ask other nations for support. 

"Fuck the international community. It can be bought. This is our fight and in the end ours alone," he said in a June 12 tweet

DUTERTE SILENCE 

Hilbay questioned why President Rodrigo Duterte, who has largely set aside the once tense stand-off with Beijing over the resource-rich waterway, has yet to make any public comment on the issue. 

"Who's going to protect our fishermen if that's the policy -- the policy of silence on the part of the highest official of the land when it comes to China, but a disparate policy when it comes to other nations like Canada?" Hilbay said. 

Duterte is "waiting for the facts to set in before making any declaration," his spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters. 

The President in April threatened to declare war against Ottawa if it fails to take back heaps of trashed shipped by a Canadian firm to Manila nearly 5 years ago. 

Recently, he criticized Beijing's assertive stance over the sea, saying "I love China... but it behooves upon us to ask, 'Is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean?" 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called the incident "an ordinary maritime traffic accident." He said it was irresponsible for the Philippines to "politicize the incident without verification."

Competing claims over the South China Sea are a point of regional contention because trillions of dollars of goods pass through it, and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters.

Reed Bank, an area claimed by Manila and Beijing, is within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile EEZ and far from China's nearest major landmass.

With a report from Agence France-Presse