Panelo clarifies role of ‘neutral’ party in PH-China joint probe

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 23 2019 12:32 AM | Updated as of Jun 23 2019 03:11 AM

A third party will participate in a joint investigation into an incident that sank a boat carrying Filipino fishermen (pictured), only if the findings by the Chinese and the Filipino sides are contradictory. Handout via AP

BANGKOK—A neutral entity will be called in to participate in the Philippines and China’s joint probe into the boat-ramming incident in Reed Bank, only if the findings from their investigations are contradictory. 

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the clarification Saturday after President Rodrigo Duterte accepted the offer of the Chinese government to jointly investigate the incident.

Panelo earlier said the President wants a concerted investigating committee composed of representatives from the Philippines, China, and a “neutral country.”

“You need a third party lang kung hindi kayo mag-agree. Kung mag-a-agree kayo, what do you need the third party for?” Panelo told reporters.

“What is clear is that parties will be investigating, and share their findings. Kung pareho, so there’s nothing to discuss anymore.”

Malacañang, meanwhile, allayed concerns that the joint probe will be heavily influenced by China.

“Bakit naman tayo papayag ma-control? Mga Pilipino pa? You should know us. Hindi mako-control ’yun. Ang guarantee mo du’n ’yung character natin. Hindi tayo nagpapatalo,” Panelo said.

He added that even China agrees justice should be served for the Filipino fishermen and irresponsible behavior should not be condoned.

Duterte agreed to a joint investigation with China to find a “satisfactory closure” to the Reed Bank incident, according to Panelo.

Part of it, he said, would be an admission of guilt and apology from the party at fault, and compensation of the aggrieved party.

“Sabi niya kasi ’pag separate, it’s open to question. Baka sabihin nila biased ’yung magkabilang partido. Pero kung joint, may katuwiran,” Panelo added.

Foreign Affairs Secetary Teodoro Locsin Jr. previously rejected the idea of a joint investigation, but Panelo said that upon talking to him Friday night, Locsin deferred to the President.

The mechanics of the joint investigation with China have yet to be finalized.

Amid issues in the West Philippine Sea, Duterte is expected to push for a code of conduct in the disputed waters during the ASEAN Summit here.

“ ’Yung code of conduct parang ire-raise niya na what right do you have to claim the seas fronting you?” Panelo said.

“Isang itutulak niya dito sa ASEAN ’yung COC, code of conduct, para hindi na mangyari ’yung insidenteng nakakasakit, hindi lang sa damdamin, sa kabuhayan, but even sa buhay ng mga Pilipino, lalo na ’yung maliliit, ’yung mangingisda at magsasaka,” added former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who was part of Duterte’s delegation in Bangkok.

The Philippines is the coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021, where it leads negotiations on drafting a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Aside from the Philippines, ASEAN member-states Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam also have partial claims to the resource-rich area.

Before leaving for Bangkok on Friday night, the Philippine President himself said he would question at the summit China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea. 

But Panelo said the statement is not necessarily against China.

“When you question something, humihingi ka lang ng paliwanag. Baka naman may magandang paliwanag, baka mapaniwala mo kami,” he told the media.

Panelo also clarified the President’s warning against countries making sweeping claims on contested waters, saying he could do the same with Sulu Sea.

“Ang sinasabi niya, kung ang claim mo ay dahil ever since China Sea ’yan. Kami naman ever since Sulu Sea, di pwede naming hindi kayo paraanin dito? ’Yun lang ang sinasabi niya. Follow the logic, ’yun ang magiging logical consequence,” Panelo said.