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DOJ to DFA: Reject China’s demand to return dinghies

INSISTING that Reed Bank is within the Philippines’s territorial waters, the Department of Justice has advised the Department of Foreign Affairs not to heed the demand made by the Chinese government for the immediate return of 35 fishing boats that were seized last year after a collision between a Navy vessel and a Chinese trawler in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
In a two-page legal opinion, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the government should not release the dinghies until the National Committee on Illegal Entrants (NCIE) has finished its investigation into the incident that renewed  tensions between the two countries which have been asserting sovereignty over the Spratly islands and its seas.
“Considering that the incident happened at the Reed Bank, which is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, this department sustains the seizure of the fishing vessels until the NCIE has investigated this incident..,” de Lima said.
She said the investigation is pursuant to Executive Order 656 issued on February 26, 1981, amending Executive Order 81, Series of 1976 which created a committee to coordinate the investigation, handling and disposition of apprehended illegal entrants and foreign vessels violating Philippine laws.
The DOJ issued the legal opinion upon the request of Foreign Assistant Secretary Jaime Victor Ledda, chairman of NCIE, following China’s demand for the immediate release of the confiscated fishing boats.
In his letter-request sent to the DOJ, Ledda noted that based on the report made by the Department of National Defense (DND) the collision was merely an accident as the Navy ship BRP Rizal lost its steering control.
The Navy vessel was patrolling Reed Bank when it spotted a poaching Chinese fishing vessel which was towing at least 35 small fishing boats or dinghies.
The main Chinese ship fled from the area following the collision and left behind the unmanned fishing boats.
Ledda informed the DOJ that despite the collision, no individuals have been arrested or held in custody, thus, no case has been filed before any court in connection with the incident.
He added that the Chinese government, through its embassy in Manila, has requested Philippine authorities immediately return the smaller boats and disclosed that it has identified the owner of the fishing vessels based in Hong Kong who is requesting that his property be returned.
De Lima said the investigation is in consonance with the constitutional right to due process and the opportunity to be heard.
Earlier, the Chinese government insisted that its nationals have the right to fish in the Reed Bank which has been their “traditional” fishing ground for generations.
Meanwhile, the DOJ has also expressed support for House Bill 865 introduced by Liberal Party Rep. Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa, chairman of the House Committee on National Defense and Security.
The bill proposes the institutionalization of Peace and Order Councils and National Security Councils as consultative entities; the creation of the National Defense Systems Board that shall provide advice to the President on national defense security issues; designation of Congress to be the principal entity that will conduct periodic review and oversight initiatives over existing national defense and security policy established by law and creation of a National Command Authority chaired by the President that will provide prompt operational decision analysis to national defense and security estimates and produce the responsive decision outputs for the President.
Likewise, the bill also proposes to require the President, within the first year of the administration, to determine Strategic Defense Structure that shall prescribe the wartime table of organization and equipment, the troop ceiling and table of distribution of ranks; and the organization, development, maintenance and direction of the Reserve Force which shall consist of manpower development phase, reserve forces development phase, reserve forces deployment phase, civil defense deployment phase and deactivation phase.
De Lima noted that the defense and security of the country are still anchored on the national defense principles as laid down in the National Defense Act of 1935 which was crafted more than 70 years ago, when the Philippines was still an American colony.
She said the provisions contained in the said law would no longer fit the present security situation not only in the domestic but also in the international scene.
“Indeed, it is high time that a new Charter for the defense and military establishment be crafted and enacted into law. This department fully supports the institutionalization of the needed improvements in the defense and the military establishments be crafted and enacted into law,” de Lima added.
SUNDAY, 26 FEBRUARY 2012 19:07


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