Philippines must demand compensation, SC justice says
MANILA - It was an "aggressive" Chinese militia vessel under the command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) that rammed a Filipino fishing boat anchored off the coast of Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea on Sunday, a senior Supreme Court justice said Friday.
This is contrary to the Chinese government's claim that a Chinese fishing boat was involved in the incident and that crewmen attempted to rescue the 22 Filipinos thrown overboard.
"No other coastal state have fishing vessels purposely designed for ramming other fishing vessels," Carpio said in a statement.
"Captains of ordinary Chinese fishing vessels do not engage in ramming for fear of inflicting damage to their own vessels," Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said in a statement.
"It is thus highly likely that a Chinese maritime militia vessel rammed the Filipino fishing vessel F/B GEM-VIR1," he said.
The magistrate issued the statement after the Filipino captain of F/B GEM-VIR1 asserted that the ramming was intentional and that the Chinese crew even checked if their boat had sunk before sailing away from the area.
The Filipino fishermen returned to their families Friday night.
Carpio cited the Filipino fishermen's description that that Chinese vessel had "reinforced steel hulls purposely for ramming fishing vessels of other coastal states.
He said the militia vessels are "trained, equipped and organized by the Navy of the PLA."
"While at sea, Chinese maritime militia vessels are under the chain of command of the PLA. They are equipped with satellite radio communications and can communicate at any time with their local PLA commanders," Carpio said.
Beijing earlier denied reports that the incident was a hit and run, as Philippine authorities had described, saying the vessel was identified as Chinese fishing boat Yuemaobinyu 42212, and that its captain wanted to rescue the Filipinos thrown overboard but were "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."
The incident happened within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea, where China lays expansive claims.
Carpio, a staunch defender of Philippine sovereignty in the disputed waters, said the ramming is "a quantum escalation of China’s aggressive acts against the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea."
"This may signal the start of a new 'gray zone' offensive by China to drive away Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea, in the same way that China is driving away Vietnamese fishing vessels in the Paracels," he said, in reference to islands in the South China Sea being claimed by Vietnam and China.
"The Chinese maritime militia vessel, under the command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), prevented the crew of F/B GEM-VIR1 from exercising their sovereign right to fish in the exclusive fishing ground of Filipino fishermen," he said.
He cited the July 2016 international arbitral ruling that invalidated China's 9-dash line claim to nearly all of the South China Sea and declared the area part of the Philippines' EEZ.
The Philippines, which initiated the case against China that led to the landmark ruling, has not flaunted its legal victory as President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued closer ties with Beijing.
His administration has, however, said the Philippines has been undertaking diplomatic actions amid Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs swiftly filed a diplomatic protest following the latest incident.
DEMAND FOR COMPENSATION
The Philippines "must take a strong stand against this latest aggressive act of China" and "demand compensation" for the owner of the sunken vessel and its crew, Carpio said.
"The Filipino people must send a strong signal to China that any new 'grey zone' offensive of ramming Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea will mean a break of diplomatic ties with China," he said.
Duterte has appeared in public events several times after the ramming incident but has stayed mum on the matter.
His spokesperson Salvador Panelo, however, said the Philippines may cut ties with China if the incident was proven to be intentional.