Rather than achieve clarity surrounding the the Reed Bank “collision” incident the media and the “thought leaders” of the Opposition have been pretty much useless. Therefore it falls on the more intelligent participants in the Philippines’ political discourse to chart a way forward. First thing is to define objectives.
The case involves only three considerations:
(i) The legality of the presence of the Chinese vessel Yuemaobinyu 42212 in Reed Bank on the 9th June 2019. Reed Bank is an area of dispute between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China (PROC) but, following a 2016 ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, is considered part of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As such, there is strong reason to assert that Yuemaobinyu 42212 was sailing unauthorised in Philippine waters at the time of the incident.
(ii) The true nature of the encounter between Yuemaobinyu 42212 and the Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-Vir 1 which sailed from San Jose, Occidental Mindoro on the 29th May 2019, with 22 crewmen led by Captain Junel Insigne. Was the collision intentional (i.e., a “ramming”)? Did F/B Gem-Vir 1 actually sink?
(iii) The existing extradition treaty between the PROC and the Philippines. Article 1 of this extradition treaty stipulates that China and the Philippines “agree to extradite to each other […] any person who is found in the territory of the requested Party and who is wanted by the requesting Party for prosecution or for the imposition or enforcement of a sentence in respect of an offense described in Article 2”. According to Article 2, such an offense is one “punishable under the laws of both Parties by imprisonment for a period of more than one year, or by a more severe penalty.”
In considering these three things, the steps the Philippines, the aggrieved party, need to take become quite clear.
(1) Mount a criminal investigation and court procedure that leads to a proper ruling issued by a Philippine Court. An earlier article, cites how a similar initiative being undertaken by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has resulted in the identification of four suspects responsible for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014. The JIT now plans to charge and prosecute them within the Netherlands’ own criminal justice system. In the case of the Philippines, the job is already half-done. The Chinese vessel had been positively-identified, and an investigation had reportedly already been completed by the Philippine Coast Guard.
(2) If there is sufficient evidence based on the investigation to prosecute the captain and crew of Yuemaobinyu 42212, the case could be tried in a Philippine Court. In the example of the MH17 case, the JIT has resolved to proceed with the trial “with or without” the accused being physically present in considering the refusal of the Russian government to cooperate.
(3) If prosecution is successful, file a request to extradite the captain and crew of Yuemaobinyu 42212 from China. Under the extradition treaty, China can opt to refuse to extradite its nationals. However, it would be in the interest of both the Chinese and Philippine governments to cooperate on this matter. Both governments insist that the incident is too small to harm their existing bilateral relationship so it makes sense, if the case is contained and managed in the way thus far described here, to have this incident satisfactorily resolved through due process as quickly as possible. China turns over the crew of Yuemaobinyu 42212 to the Philippines, the Philippines prosecutes and subjects them to a Philippine court and, if found guilty, are locked away in a Philippine prison (to be eventually forgotten). Everybody comes out happy and friends.
To be fair, this leaves unresolved the issue of why Yuemaobinyu 42212 was illegally in Reed Bank to begin with. But that’s business as usual between China and the Philippines whether or not its fateful collision with F/B Gem-Vir 1 happened or not. The important thing is that the “2019 Reed Bank Incident” be treated as a discrete case subject to a specific resolution.
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