MANILA, Philippines – One of the Philippines' staunchest defenders of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) urged Filipinos to demand compensation from China over the sinking of a Filipino boat by a Chinese ship.
In a statement sent to Rappler late Friday evening, June 14, Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the ramming of the Philippine boat, Fishing Boat Gem-Ver, "is a quantum escalation of China's aggressive acts against the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea."
Carpio said this "may signal the start of a new 'gray zone' offensive by China to drive away Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea, in the same way that China is driving away Vietnamese fishing vessels in the Paracels."
"The Filipino people must take a strong stand against this latest aggressive act of China. The Filipino people must demand from China compensation for the owner of F/B Gem-Ver 1, and punishment for the captain and crew of the Chinese vessel that rammed in hit-and-run fashion F/B Gem-Ver 1," Carpio said.
"The Filipino people must send a strong signal to China that any new 'grey zone' offensive of ramming Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea will mean a break of diplomatic ties with China," he added.
Carpio issued this statement after Filipino fishermen confirmed, and China admitted, that a Chinese vessel was involved in the boat sinking incident.
The Filipino fishermen and China, however, had different versions of the story. The Filipino fishermen said the Chinese vessel deliberately rammed and sank their boat, while China claimed the Chinese "were besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino boats," preventing them from rescuing the Filipinos from their sunken vessel.
Work of Chinese militia
In his statement, Carpio also said it is "highly likely that a Chinese maritime militia vessel rammed" the Filipino boat.
"China's maritime militia vessels have reinforced steel hulls purposely for ramming fishing vessels of other coastal states. No other coastal state has fishing vessels purposely designed for ramming other fishing vessels. Captains of ordinary Chinese fishing vessels do not engage in ramming for fear of inflicting damage to their own vessels," Carpio said.
He pointed out that Chinese maritime militias "are trained, equipped, and organized by the Navy" of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). "While at sea, Chinese maritime militia vessels are under the chain of command of the PLA. They are equipped with satellite radio communications and can communicate at any time with their local PLA commanders," he said.
Carpio explained: "China's maritime militia vessels have been ramming Vietnamese vessels in the Paracels for several years now. This is the first time that a Chinese maritime militia vessel has rammed a Filipino fishing vessel. Previously, Chinese maritime militia vessels just loitered in the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island and other Philippine-occupied geologic features in the Spratlys, intimidating the Filipino occupants of these features."
The SC justice added that the ramming of the Philippine boat "is a clear violation" of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Carpio noted that the Filipinos were fishing in Recto Bank (Reed Bank), which is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Recto Bank: Why China covets what belongs to the Philippines)
"Here, the Chinese maritime militia vessel, under the command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), prevented the crew of F/B Gem-Ver 1 from exercising their sovereign right to fish in the exclusive fishing ground of Filipino fishermen," he said.
Weighing in on the boat sinking incident, the United States on Friday evening, meanwhile, rejected coercion and intimidation to assert maritime claims.
"We saw news reports of the collision at sea. We are thankful none of the Filipino fishermen lost their lives and glad that Vietnamese fishermen rescued them from the open sea," the US embassy said in a statement.
"Our position on the South China Sea is clear: We support lawful uses of the sea, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peace and stability. We urge all parties to refrain from using coercion and intimidation to assert their territorial and maritime claims," the US added. – Rappler.com
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Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.