US diplomat on Recto Bank incident: Responsible maritime behavior needed

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim (June 18, 2019). MindaNews photo by ANTONIO L. COLINA IV

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 June) – United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim on Tuesday said the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver at the Rector Bank after a Chinese vessel reportedly rammed it on the evening of June 9 should be a reminder that “there needs to be a responsible maritime behavior and activities that are consistent with international law.”

Kim told reporters in a press conference at the Seda Abreeza Hotel that Filipino and Chinese officials should investigate the incident to find out what happened amid contradictory statements by China and the fishermen.

Chinese officials downplayed the incident as a “regular maritime accident,” but the 22 Filipino fishermen maintained their boat was hit by a Chinese fishing vessel and they were abandoned at sea.

Kim said both governments must investigate to determine if the Chinese fishermen were responsible for the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat as claimed by the Filipino fishermen who were rescued hours later by Vietnamese fishermen.

The diplomat said the responsible party should be held accountable.

“It appears that it was an accident but I would say it’s a very serious situation. I know that Philippines officials have called Chinese authorities to fully investigate the incident. I think that’s important. We need to find out exactly what happened, and if in fact there was wrongdoing by the Chinese fishing vessel,” he said.

In his speech during the 121st Philippine Navy Anniversary at the National Base Heracleo Alano, Sangley Point in Cavite on Monday, President Duterte called the incident a “little maritime accident” and should not result in a war with China.

“Pero ‘yang — ‘yang nangyari diyan sa banggaan, that is a maritime incident. Huwag kayong maniwala diyan sa mga politiko na bobo na gusto papunta ‘yung — papuntahin ‘yung Navy (The collision that happened there, that is a maritime incident. Do not believe in the stupid politicians who want to send our Navy there). You do not send gray ships there…. Do not make it worse because there is a — that’s a fertile ground for…,” he said.

Saying the country “can never be ready in a nuclear war,” Duterte said the Philippines is not ready to fight China.

“Because in a nuclear war kung bitawan lahat ‘yan (if all those [missiles] are fired), Earth will dry up and we will all be destroyed and that is the end of everything,” he said.

Duterte defended his silence over the issue because “there is no investigation and there is no result. Then the only thing that we can do is to wait and give the other party the right to be heard.”

Kim believed the government should demand full accountability over the recent incident in the disputed waters.

“I think we’re looking to the Filipino officials and Chinese officials to get to the bottom of the incident to find out what exactly happened and what needs to be done, and to hold those responsible accountable.”

He said measures must be taken immediately to prevent similar maritime accidents from happening again, and highlighted the importance of coming up with a meaningful code of conduct in the region, which he said the US will continue to support.

“And what is more important, what needs to be done to make sure to prevent incidents like that in the future,” he said.

The Filipino fishermen claimed the Chinese fishermen maneuvered in reverse and sailed away even if they knew that they survived the incident.

“I think there is established duty to save lives at sea. When you know that your fellow fishermen are in trouble that leads us to our responsibility to help save them. I am very grateful that no lives were lost and there was a Vietnamese fishing vessel nearby to save the Filipino fishermen,” Kim said.

On 16 July 2016, the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea, negating China’s nine-dash line claim that practically covers the whole South China Sea. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)