MANILA - The Philippines and China may conduct a joint investigation on the allision of a Filipino fishing boat and a Chinese ship near the Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea, Cabinet officials said Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said he is planning to suggest the idea to President Rodrigo Duterte while Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said it is one of the options being considered by the government.
"Maganda rin iyong (It will be good to have a) joint investigation—I am tinkering [with] the idea of suggesting that, joint investigation ng dalawang bansa (of the 2 countries)," Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
"It's possible. It's one of the options kaya nga po ang magiging proseso nito andiyan ang ating (that's why our process there is our) diplomatic protest. Hintayin natin ang (let's wait for the) reply ng (of) China then we will work from there," Nograles told reporters.
Malacañang has appealed for sobriety over the sinking of a Filipino boat by a Chinese ship were 22 Filipino fishermen were abandoned at sea. They were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
The Philippines filed a "strongly worded" diplomatic protest last week immediately after the incident was reported.
Amid public outrage, Duterte on Monday dismissed the sinking of the Filipino boat as just a "maritime incident."
The President has been pursuing closer ties with China amid unresolved disputes over the South China Sea. Part of the waters within the country's exclusive economic zone is called the West Philippine Sea.
"'Wag kayong maniwala diyan sa mga politiko, bobo, gusto papuntahin 'yung Navy... Banggaan lang ng barko 'yan. Do not make it worse," he said.
(Do not believe those stupid politicians. They want to send the Navy. That is just a collision of boats.)
Beijing, through its embassy in Manila, denied that its men abandoned the Filipino fishermen, saying the captain of the Chinese ship tried to save them but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."
Nograles earlier said the Maritime Industry Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard would lead further investigations into the Recto Bank incident. Beijing, meanwhile, said it would also launch its own probe.
Panelo said the Philippine government would wait for the results of China's investigation before deciding on the country's next course of action.
"They have their own investigation; and we have ours. And then, mag-reconcile tayo kung ano sa tingin natin (let's reconcile after)," he said.
He said once results diverge, an arbitral body should "decide which is true or false, which is right or wrong." There should be an independent body if the two sides disagree, he said.
"But we are—of course, we are hopeful na malalaman din natin kung anong nangyari. And kung sinuman ang may kasalanan should admit liability and give compensation," he said.
(We are hopeful in finding out what really happened and whoever is at fault should admit liability and give compensation.)