MANILA - The collision between a Filipino fishing boat and a suspected Chinese vessel off Reed Bank near Palawan could be deliberate, a maritime law expert warned Thursday.
Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said China has a record of sinking Vietnamese vessels in the disputed South China Sea.
"Pinapalubog ng mga Chinese vessels o kaya mga Chinese units 'yung mga Vietnamese fishing vessels. Kaya dapat concern natin 'yan na hindi 'yun ma-replicate dito sa side natin sa West Philippine Sea," he told "Bandila."
The boat carrying 22 Filipino fishermen was anchored off Reed Bank Sunday night when it was allegedly hit by a Chinese vessel.
The military said a Vietnamese boat rescued the Filipino crew instead and likened the case as a hit-and-run.
Batongbacal said he found it difficult to accept the collision, which would test the warmer relations of both nations, as an accident.
A moving vessel would not collide with an anchored vessel in the open ocean and endanger the safety of those onboard, he added.
Batongbacal also saw it as a positive sign that the Philippine government denounced the incident and called on Chinese authorities to impose sanctions against the offending vessel.
"Medyo nakakagulat nga kasi hindi kagaya nung ilang taon na parang laging excuses ang lumalabas sa ating pamahalaan," he said.
Philippines won a key 2016 ruling against China's claims in the long-contested waters, but President Rodrigo Duterte pursued warmer ties with Beijing to court loans and investments.