Trilateral WPS probe eyed

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo. (Facebook image)

A trilateral body will be formed to conduct an impartial probe on the collision of Chinese and Filipino boats in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS) that endangered the lives of 22 Filipinos, the Palace announced yesterday.

Presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo issued the confirmation shortly after the Chief Executive’s arrival in Thailand late Friday night to attend the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit here.

According to Panelo, Mr. Duterte wants the creation of a joint investigation committing to be comprised of “three groups of highly qualified and competent individuals,” with the Philippines and China having one representative each and a third member coming from a neutral country to ensure impartiality.

The President reportedly gave the thumbs up a couple of days after the Chinese government made the proposal to have a joint inquiry.

Separate probes confusing

“Having separate investigations by the two countries may raise speculation and accusation of bias. Such circumstance will put any finding by any side open to question and place the entire issue in a confused state,” Panelo said.

“On the other hand, a joint and impartial investigation will not only promote the expedient resolution of the issue, it will also be in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which places paramount emphasis on the use of peaceful means to resolve international disputes,” he added.

Several other government officials, including Department of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana, have expressed openness to a shared investigation to shed light on the incident.

Foreign affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., however, earlier rejected the idea saying “a joint investigation trenches on each other’s sovereignty.”

Incident reports done

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said a joint report of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) on the Recto Bank incident is complete and was already been submitted to Malacañang.

In a chance interview ahead of his attendance to the courtesy call of Thai business executives to President Rodrigo Duterte at the Waldorf Astoria, Tugade bared that the agencies’ report on their initial investigation on the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in Recto Bank recently has been forwarded to the Office of the President last Thursday, 20 June.

“Submitting the report is one thing, but whether the President has already read it, I’m not really sure,” Tugade said.

Asked for a gist of the said report, Tugade begged off from releasing details until after Mr. Duterte has had his say on the matter.

“I will leave it to the wisdom of the authority to which the report was submitted to make the announcement regarding the contents of the report. It’s better to make a comment after the President has read and appreciated the report,” stated Tugade.

One aspect the joint PCG-MARINA probe focused on was whether the incident that sank a Filipino fishing boat with 22 crew onboard, caused by a Chinese vessel, was accidental or intentional.

“We are demanding justice for our countrymen, and we are using all legal means toward that end,” Panelo said.

With Elmer N. Manuel