Robredo 'not confident' about joint PH-China probe, backs third-party inquiry

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday, June 23, said she is "not confident" about the planned joint probe with China into the sinking of a Filipino boat in Recto Bank (Reed Bank), and instead supported the idea of an investigation done by a third party.

"Kaya mahirap na joint investigation, kasi hindi natin sigurado kung iyong totoo talaga iyong lalabas. Hindi naman nape-prevent na mag-imbestiga tayo saka iyong China, pero sana mayroong third party na mag-iimbestiga," Robredo said in her Sunday radio program.

(It's difficult to have a joint investigation because we don't know if the truth will really come out. We're not prevented from conducting our own probe, and also China from conducting its own, but I hope there's a third party that will investigate too.)

President Rodrigo Duterte had agreed to a joint probe with China, with Malacañang initially saying that a neutral party who would be part of the committee will be identified. (READ: PH backtracks, downplays 3rd party in Recto Bank probe)

Robredo said she was "confused" with the conflicting statements made by Duterte's Cabinet members on the probe.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana all expressed support for the joint probe, while Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr opposed it.

Robredo also raised doubts over China's narrations of the incident. Beijing initially claimed that their vessel was "besieged by 7 or 8 Philippine boats," but it omitted the claim in a later statement. (READ: TIMELINE: Sinking of Filipino boat in West PH Sea by Chinese ship)

"Hindi ako confident dito, kasi iyong pinaka-isyu nga nabu-bully tayo eh. Iyon din ang dahilan kung bakit hindi tayo confident sa isang bilateral na usapin. Ang gusto natin multilateral, na mayroong ibang kasali," the Vice President said.

(I'm not confident about a joint probe because the biggest issue here is we're being bullied. This is the same reason why we're not confident about bilateral talks. We want it multilateral, with other parties involved.)

Robredo likened the incident to a car crash where the drivers involved would insist they're not at fault.

"Sino iyong magsasabi kung sino'ng may kasalanan? Iyon lang naman iyong punto (Who will say who committed the wrongdoing? That's the point)," she said.

'Why was China there?'

Chinese ship Yuemaobinyu 42212 rammed, sank, and abandoned the distressed fishermen of F/B Gem-Ver in Recto Bank on June 9. China has admitted that it was a Chinese vessel that hit the Filipino boat, but claimed that it was nothing more than an accident at sea.

Found in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Recto Bank is coveted by China but belongs to the Philippines based on a 2016 international ruling.

Robredo said investigators must ask why the Chinese fishing vessel was near Recto Bank, in an area where the Philippines enjoys exclusive sovereign rights.

"Ang unang tanong, ano'ng ginagawa doon ng Chinese fishing boat, na sila nga iyong bumangga sa mga Pilipino? Kailangan kasali ito sa imbestigasyon.... Iyong utilization saka enjoyment ng resources, dapat exclusive iyon sa atin," she said.

(The first question is, what was the Chinese fishing boat doing there, that they rammed the Filipino boat? This needs to be included in the investigation.... The utilization and enjoyment of resouces should be exclusively ours.)

The Vice President had visited the 22 Gem-Ver crew members and provided assistance last Friday, June 21.

While Robredo earlier condemned China's actions, Duterte dismissed the sinking of the Filipino boat as a "little maritime accident." – Rappler.com

Related stories, in-depth reports, analyses, videos, podcasts: The sinking of a Philippine boat in West Philippine Sea

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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