Press Release
June 23, 2019

Drilon nixes joint probe of Recto Bank incident
The minority leader says it can prejudice PH claim in the West Philippine Sea

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon on Sunday asserted that a joint probe with China into the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) incident could weaken the Philippine's maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Drilon made the remarks as Malacanang announced on Saturday that the President has accepted the offer of the Chinese Government to conduct a joint investigation.

"I am opposed to a joint investigation with China. We should not allow it. The law is on our side. There are clear violations of international treaties and our local laws committed by the Chinese vessel. A joint investigation will only serve their interest, not ours," Drilon said.

"A joint investigation would derogate our jurisdiction and prejudice our claim in the WPS," Drilon stressed.

Drilon recalled that in 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration agreed with the country's claim that China has unlawfully interfered with the enjoyment and exercise of the sovereign rights of the Philippines with respect to the resources of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Recto Bank is part of the country's EEZ.

Drilon lamented how "the country's laws are taking a backseat in favor of China."

"There is no need for a joint investigation. The incident happened within our territory and the facts were clearly established. All that is left for the government to do is to implement and execute our laws. Sadly, our laws were put in the backseat in favor of China, " Drilon said.

A former justice secretary, Drilon said that aside from violation of international treaties, there are clear violations of the country's laws.

Drilon cited the Philippine Fisheries Code which limits access to the country's fishery and aquatic resources for the exclusive use and enjoyment of Filipinos and asserts the country's jurisdiction over Philippine waters including the country's 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

Drilon said that the Chinese vessel that rammed the Philippine fishing vessel could be slapped with up to US$1.2 million under the law.

Drilon said the Chinese vessel violated Section 91 of RA 10654, which makes it unlawful for any foreign person, corporation or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters.

RA 10654 was enacted into law during Drilon's time as Senate President in 2015.

The former Senate President explained that under the law, the entry of any foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters constitues a prima facie presumption that the vessel is engaged in fishing in Philippine waters. Prima facie means on its face, by the simple fact of the foreign vessel being in Philippine waters, it is presumed to be engaged in illegal fishing in our waters.

"They could contest the facts surrounding the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat by that Chinese vessel. But the fact that that Chinese vessel illegally encroached upon Philippine waters is uncontestable. And for that, the government can penalize them," Drilon said.

RA 10654 states that upon a summary finding of administrative liability, any foreign person, corporation or entity in violation of this section shall be punished by an administrative fine of US$600 thousand to US$1 million, or its equivalent in Philippine currency.

Upon conviction by a court of law, Drilon said the offender shall be punished with a fine of US$1.2 million, or its equivalent in Philippine currency, and confiscation of catch, fishing equipment and fishing vessel.

Section 2 (b) of the Fisheries Code specifically declares it a policy of the State to "limit access to the fishery and aquatic resources of the Philippines for the exclusive use and enjoyment of Filipino citizens". The said law was amended by RA 10654 and the amendments included provisions that strengthened the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

"The Congress provided more teeth to the Fisheries Code precisely to prevent abuses of our Philippine waters, preserve our marine and acquatic resources, and protect the livelihood of our fisher folks. We call on the executive to implement the law," Drilon concluded.

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