THE PHILIPPINES will discuss with China the payment for 22 Filipino fishermen who were abandoned at sea after their ship collided with a Chinese trawler in June last year, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The agency said it had received the report from the Justice department proposing P12 million in damage claims, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Martin R. Menez said in a mobile phone message on Saturday night.
“The matter will now be subject to diplomatic engagement between the two governments, while advancing the claims and interests of the affected Gem-Ver fishermen,” he said.
The Chinese fishing boat, registered in Guangdong, took responsibility for the accident that it claimed was unintentional, two months after it happened at Reed Bank in the South China Sea, based on a letter sent to DFA. The owner said the Philippines should file a claim for damages related to the incident.
The Chinese Embassy on June 14 denied that a Chinese ship had sunk a Filipino boat in a “hit-and-run” incident. It said the Chinese ship was “besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats,” preventing it from rescuing the Filipino fishermen.
It later sent its sympathies to the 22 distressed fishermen who were abandoned at sea for hours and were later saved by a Vietnamese fishing vessel.
The apology came more than two months after the mishap and on the day Mr. Duterte left for an official visit to China last year.
Eight days after the sinking, President Rodrigo R. Duterte dismissed the June 9 incident as a “little maritime accident” and rebuffed the pleas of Philippine fishermen demanding a firmer stance to protect their rights in the disputed waterway.
“I’m sorry, but that’s how it is,” Duterte said at that time.
The P12-million claim covers the repair of the fishing boat as well as income and wages for six months, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said last week.
“We’re expecting they will forward this to the Chinese government side,” the Justice chief told CNN Philippines. “We’re just waiting for the reaction of the Chinese government.”
China claims sovereignty over more than 80% of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes. Beijing has occupied and built artificial islands on the disputed reefs complete with runways and military installations, alarming the US and its allies.
A United Nations tribunal in 2016 upheld the Philippines’ sea claims, rejecting China’s historical claim based on a so-called nine-dash line map.
Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said lawmakers could violate the Constitution if they open telecommunications to foreign control.
An attempt by Congress to redefine public utilities might be illegal because the Supreme Court is the “final interpreter of words and phrases in the Constitution,” he told an online forum on Friday.
“But if Congress will pass a law interpreting and redefining these terms and phrases you are taking away the power of the Supreme Court,” he added.
Some sectors including lawmakers have raised concerns about third telecommunication player DITO Telecommunity Corp.’s partnership with China Telecom (ChinaTel) and its planned construction of cell sites inside military camps.
Mr. Carpio said the Chinese government is mandating all Chinese companies, as citizens, to disclose any information required by its intelligence service.
“It is a problem that the Philippines is allowing ChinaTel to install telecom equipment in military camps and the fact that we have a conflict with China,” he said.
DITO earlier said it would not use its devices and infrastructure to obtain classified information from the Philippine military. — Charmaine A. Tadalan