Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lawmakers call for restraint over sea 'collision'

..MANILA -- Members of the House of Representatives called for restraint while Philippine authorities conduct a deeper probe into reports that a Chinese vessel rammed against a Filipino-manned fishing boat causing the death of a fisherman.

The Philippine Coast Guard reported on Monday that a Hong Kong-registered bulk vessel, MV Peach Mountain, may have crashed into the fishing boat.

House Assistant Majority Leader and Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles, however, said it is premature for the Philippine government to make a conclusion on what really happened to the fishermen.

President Benigno Aquino III, meantime, refused to blame China on the incident, saying he is still waiting for the result of the investigation.

“There is an investigation, determination of cause, determination of who is at fault. Then after all of this investigation, then that tells us where we will proceed,” Aquino said.

“So now, let us not pinpoint to anyone while there is no sufficient evidence,” he added.

Aquino also assured on Monday necessary assistance to the victims of the reported collision and vowed justice for them.

“If there was a ramming incident and you left the fishermen in the middle of the sea -- that is in clear violation of the laws governing the seas. That is actionable. We can go to the appropriate fora to file the necessary charges for justice for our fishermen,” Aquino said.

Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Hua said media reports on the alleged "accidental bumping" of boats last June 20 have yet to be verified by Chinese authorities.

"We wonder what that news story was based upon. We hope relevant persons can verify the facts with a responsible attitude before they report," said Zhang.

In a report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), it said the fishermen's boat "Axl John" was damaged after being bumped by a Chinese vessel while anchored on an artificial fish shelter.

The collision caused the eventual death of a Filipino fisherman identified as Christopher Carbonell, 32, of Bolinao, Pangasinan.

Three others were rescued, while four fishermen who were identified as Fred Celino, Arnold Garcia, Domy de los Santos and Amante Resonable remained missing.

The three rescued fishermen, Edimio Balmores, Herman Balmores and Celino Damian, are currently confined at Gabriela Silang General Hospital in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.

“The authorities could not get statements from them because they are still suffering from hypothermia, rapid loss of body warmth. So, they still could not talk,” Aquino said.

Nograles said the international community should not be complacent about the latest incident.

"If this incident was deliberate and was sanctioned by the Chinese government, this is a clear act of aggression against another sovereign nation. This is an act of war," he said in a statement.

The Philippine government should at least report the incident to the United Nations, Nograles said.

"The global community, through the United Nations, should promote justice and parity among nations by actively persuading China, or any other nation for that matter, to forget the ancient dictum that whoever is strong rules the world," he added.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said the Chinese crew would have violated the international law provision on the duty to assist when they left the Filipino fishermen without aiding them.

Iloilo City Representative Jerry Trenas, meanwhile, said the Philippines should assert the Mutual Defense Treaty and request the United States' assistance by deploying forces at the Panatag shoal and areas in the Spratlys group of islands that are within Philippine territory.

"This is a very complicated situation. It is understandable that China is a world economic and even military power. It is a very lucrative market for many nations, including the United States and the European powers, and even the Philippines. And China is taking advantage of this situation," Trenas said.

But President Aquino said the Philippines will not be sending back ships to the Panatag Shoal anymore because there is no presence of Chinese vessels in the area.

He said he is still waiting for the result of the latest survey of the Philippine Coast Guard in the disputed shoal. (Kathrina Alvarez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)