Philippine bishops oppose joint probe into trawler sinking

Join legislators in warning that move could mean surrendering country's sovereignty to China
Philippine bishops oppose joint probe into trawler sinking

Protesters hold a demonstration in Manila on June 18 to call on Philippine authorities to take a stand against China's call for a joint investigation into the sinking of a fishing boat in the South China Sea. (Photo by Jire Carreon) reporter, Manila
June 25, 2019
Several Philippine church leaders have joined growing opposition to a proposal for a joint Philippine-China investigation into the sinking of a fishing boat in the South China Sea.

On June 9, a Philippine fishing boat sank near the Reed Bank, a disputed area in the South China Sea, after a Chinese fishing vessel reportedly hit it while it was at anchor.

The Chinese vessel allegedly sailed away, leaving the 22 Filipinos aboard the sinking ship. A Vietnamese fishing vessel later rescued the crew.

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsoghon said a probe into the incident should be conducted by an independent body instead of officials from both countries.

"[It] is the best way to find out the facts," he said.

"A thorough, impartial and independent investigation must be carried out," said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the Philippines should not only make an "honest to goodness" investigation but should also "lodge a protest against China."

"We should not surrender our own sovereignty. The abandonment of the hapless fishermen is already a serious case," he added.

China earlier suggested a joint investigation into the incident.

The presidential palace announced that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has already accepted the "offer."

An opposition senator, however, said a joint probe could violate the country's Fisheries Code, which mandates the government safeguard the safety of the country's fishery and aquatic resources.

"Part also of the government's mandate is to address foreign illegal entry into our waters," Senator Francis Pangilinan said in a statement.

The senator said it will "never be a fair investigation when one is the oppressed and the other is the oppressor. When one is the victim and the other is the perpetrator."

Former Philippine chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno called the proposed joint probe an "overt surrender of sovereignty" because it would reduce the Philippines to a "mere participant" in the investigation.

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