MANILA (UPDATE)—President Rodrigo Duterte welcomes the joint investigation in the Reed Bank incident, in which a suspected Chinese militia vessel struck a Filipino fishing boat, Malacañang said Saturday.
"The President wants the creation of a joint investigating committee that shall be composed of 3 groups of highly qualified and competent individuals, with Philippines and China having one representative each, and a third member coming from a neutral country," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
He said separate investigations by both governments could raise accusation of bias.
"A joint and impartial investigation will not only promote the expedient resolution of the issue, it will also be in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which places paramount emphasis on the use of peaceful means to resolve international disputes," Panelo said.
He said the Philippine government is not "relinquishing any inch of our sovereign rights, nor compromising the rights of our 22 fishermen."
"We are demanding justice for our countrymen, and we are using all legal means toward that end," Panelo added.
The Filipino vessel sank after it was hit by a Chinese boat in disputed waters off Reed Bank on June 9. The Chinese left the scene and 22 Filipino fishermen were rescued by a Vietnamese boat.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Saturday slammed the government's move, saying it is bound to favor China.
"Any joint probe with an evasive Chinese government will be, quite literally, lutong makaw," she said.
"If China only intends to whitewash the incident and is unwilling to bring her erring citizens to justice for their acts, then any joint probe will be an exercise in futility."
The senator said she supports Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in rejecting the joint investigation.
Locsin earlier said the matter was "beyond civilian agencies' remit and falls well within" the jurisdiction of the Philippines' foreign affairs, defense and national security departments.
"There will be no joint investigation. China and Philippines will conduct their respective investigations," he said on Twitter.