'Not at this time': Philippines shuns legal action over China boat-ramming

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 20 2019 11:45 AM

In this undated June 2019 handout photo provided by Arlinda dela Torre via the Department of Agriculture, the damaged Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-Ver sits on the shore at San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Department of Agriculture/AP

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet is not contemplating legal action against Beijing and the crew of a Chinese vessel that sank a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Thursday. 

Theoretically, the Philippines can pursue legal action under international maritime laws and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Guevarra said in a text message to reporters. 

But the Cabinet, in a meeting last Monday, agreed to "conduct a proper marine inquiry, preferably a joint one with China, establish the true facts, allocate responsibility for restitution, and adopt measures to avoid similar incidents in the future," said the justice chief. 

"Resort to legal action, although available, is not contemplated at this time," he added. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin last week said he filed a diplomatic protest over Chinese crew's abandonment of the 22 Filipino fishermen, who stayed adrift for hours before they were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel near Recto (Reed) Bank last June 10. 

China said the trawler merely "bumped" into the Philippine boat and tried to rescue the fishermen but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats". 

On Monday, the typically brash Duterte called for calm over the sinking, which he dubbed as a "simple maritime incident." 

"'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.) 

Duterte has largely set aside the Philippines' row with Beijing over the key waterway to court trade and investments, but he has occasionally criticized China's actions there. 

Opposition politicians as well as segments of the public and media charge that Duterte has bartered away Philippine sovereignty with little to show in return.

The sinking occurred in Reed Bank, which is within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and far from China's nearest major landmass.

With a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News