By Tara Yap
Iloilo City—According to a vice admiral of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), it was a legal mistake for Filipino fishermen to first tell the media what happened when their fishing boat was allegedly rammed by a Chinese fishing vessel at Recto Bank (Reed Bank) of the West Philippine Sea.
Vice Admiral Joel Garcia of the Philippine Coast Guard at the Maritime Colloquium in Iloilo City. (Tara Yap)
“We should not have allowed the fishermen to be interviewed by the media. Their statements can be used against them. In fact, their statements are now contradicting,” said Vice Admiral Joel Garcia, PCG Deputy Commandant for Administration.
Speaking at the Maritime Colloquium in this city, Garcia emphasized that the Philippines should have followed the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“During the first day, we should have debriefed them and asked for their sworn affidavits, which are necessary when the Philippines intends to file a complaint,” Garcia pointed out.
Garcia particularly cited UNCLOS Article 94-7, which states that each country has to have an inquiry by proper authorities when “a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life or serious injury to nationals of another State.”
Garcia also clarified that the Philippines cannot apply its national laws such as the Revised Penal Code because the incident happened at Recto Bank, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone as stipulated by the 2016 ruling of an international tribunal in The Hague.
Garcia further explained that the incident was outside territorial water and only in an exclusive economic zone, which only covers the rights beneath the surface water and not above the surface water.
“What people need to understand is that there is a difference between having full sovereignty over the waters and a sovereign right,” Garcia emphasized.
Garcia will not comment whether or not the incident was accidental or intentional, but said that the Chinese violated the UNCLOS when they failed to extend help to the Filipino fishermen.
Meanwhile, Garcia urged Filipinos not to be ruled by emotions or conjecture.
“We have to follow the rule of law,” Garcia added.