Chinese fishing crew has finally sent their apology for the sinking of the Philippine fishing boat at Recto Bank in the South China Sea in June, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) declared on Wednesday.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo was ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s arrival in Beijing, and said the owner of the Chinese fishing boat already apologized for hitting, sinking, and abandoning the crew of PH fishing boat FB Gem-Ver 1 in the open water.
The DFA released the memorandum tagged with Foreign Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. dated August 28 on Twitter showing the translated letter of apology of the Chinese fishing association.
In the letter, Chinese group admits that they should take accountable or responsible for the sinking accident.
“At present, we have come up with an accident investigation report. We believe that, although this accident was an unintentional mistake of the Chinese fishermen, the Chinese fishing boat should, however, take the major responsibility in the accident.”
The group also asked the Philippine crew to file an appeal for the compensation that would be “based on the actual loss”.
“It was fortunate that there were no casualties. I feel deep regret that this accident had to happen and I would like to express my deep sympathy to the Filipino fishermen. The shipowner of the Chinese fishing boat involved, through our association, would like to express his sincere apology to the Filipino fishermen.”
The DFA said in a statement on Wednesday night that the letter was from the president of the Guangdong Fishery Mutual Insurance Association, Mr. Chen Shiqin, and then received by the Philippine Embassy in Beijing on August 26.
The August 28 memo’s subject, however, is “Chinese Apology on the Recto Bank Collision Incident” and has Locsin’s signature and a handwritten “Noted” as symbol of acknowledgement.
Duterte and Panelo are currently in Beijing to visit the Asian superpower for the fifth time.
During Panelo’s interview in China’s capital, he stated that PH accepts the Chinese crew’s apology.
“We accept the recent apology extended by the owner of the Chinese vessel to our fishermen affected by the incident.”
“We likewise welcome the owner’s humility to take responsibility and acknowledgment that compensation must be provided to cover the actual loss,” he added.
The incident in Recto Bank involved 22 fishermen from Occidental Mindoro who had nearly lost lives after Chinese trawler hit and then abandoned their fishing boat.
The Chinese fishermen called the incident an “accidental collision between a Chinese and a Philippine fishing boat” despite the narrations of the Filipino fishermen about the hitting.
Whether the incident was an accident or not, the Chinese group never admitted nor apologized to the Philippines for their actions, not until this letter of apology.
Despite that, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said on Wednesday the belated apology could be a catalyst in drawing conclusions regarding the South China Sea code of conduct.
“The statement of apology from the Chinese is welcome, especially the admission that the Chinese boat should take major responsibility,” he said.
“Moving forward, this should be a catalyst for a code of conduct.”
Validity of PH arguments
Sen. Francisco Tolentino said that the apology has just proven the validity of Philippine version of the incident and arguments about the disputed territorials.
He said the civil claim for damages for the fishermen should be pursued by the government as they lost their livelihood and almost died floating in the sea.
While China claims their ownership of the area, ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam opposed as the ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidated China’s claim.
China ignored the ruling, which states the waters is within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ), because Duterte has been setting aside the issue due to his loans and investments from China.
However, Duterte promised to take it up with China before his term in 2022 ends.
He is now in Beijing to have talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Panelo said the President will discuss the arbitral ruling and the Recto Bank incident with Xi.