(UPDATE) PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday vowed to hold accountable those behind the death of three Filipino fishermen off Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said at 4:20 a.m. on Monday, Pacific Anna, a crude oil tanker bearing the flag of the Marshall Islands, rammed into FFB Dearyn while it was moored to an anchored fish float 85 nautical miles northwest of Bajo de Masinloc
Eleven crew members of the vessel survived using eight service boats. The survivors transported the deceased to Barangay Cato in Infanta, Pangasinan.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of the three fishermen, including the captain of the fishing vessel. The incident is still under investigation to ascertain the details and circumstances surrounding the collision between the fishing boat and a still unidentified commercial vessel,” Marcos said in a statement.”
We assure the victims, their families, and everyone that we will exert every effort to hold accountable those who are responsible for this unfortunate maritime incident,” he added.
Marcos said the PCG is checking all monitored vessels in the area.
“Let us allow the PCG to do its job and investigate, and let us refrain from engaging in speculation in the meantime. Rest assured that the government will provide support and assistance to the victims and their families,” he added.
Bajo de Masinloc is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 12, 2016, affirmed Bajo de Masinloc as a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fisherfolk.
The PCG said maritime traffic data showed that Pacific Anna passed the area off Bajo de Masinloc at around 4:30 a.m. on Monday.
It said that it would contact the next port to be visited by the ship to conduct an inquiry.
Ship operators often choose the Marshall Islands as the flag state for their vessels because Marshall Islands ship mortgages are widely accepted by financiers, an important consideration considering the flag selected will determine the governing law of the mortgage over a vessel.
Survivors’ account said that due to darkness resulting from adverse weather conditions, the crew on board the mother boat failed to detect an unidentified vessel on a collision course with them.
The ship’s crew were divided into two groups: 14 were conducting fishing operations in boats around the vicinity while six, including the captain, were on board the mother vessel.
It was the returning crewmen who plucked the survivors and the deceased out of the water.
The three casualties have been identified as 47-year-old boat captain Dexter Laudencia, 38-year-old Romeo Mejeco and 62-year-old Benedicto Olandria.
They were all residents of Calapandayan in Subic, Zambales.
Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri recommended filing criminal and civil cases against the owner and the captain of the Pacific Anna.
“We are extremely outraged and aggrieved by the fatal ramming of an unidentified vessel on a Filipino fishing vessel in the West Philippine Sea, resulting in the loss of three innocent lives,” Zubiri said in a statement.
“We will not rest until we get to the bottom of this incident and identify the vessel that rammed into our fisherfolk. If it was an accident, we must figure out whether there was any attempt to assist our fisherfolk at all, as should have been done under international humanitarian law,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, said that the authorities must conduct a comprehensive and unbiased investigation of the matter.
“The safety and well-being of our fishermen must always be a top priority, and those accountable for this incident must be held responsible for their actions,” he said.
“This incident has to be clarified whether this is an accident or not so that the authorities can make the necessary moves,” Estrada added in Filipino.
Sen. Mary Grace Poe has called on maritime authorities to increase their presence in Philippine waters.
“Those found responsible must be meted the appropriate punishment. No one should escape the long arm of the law,” Poe said in a statement.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd and Senators Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros and Francis Tolentino also sought justice for the victims.
“I’m sure the government has a program to help them. Also, our government can help the families seek and get justice for what happened,” Pimentel said in a text message.
Hontiveros, in a statement, condemned the perpetrators.
“It is deplorable that the vessel left the Filipino fishing boat and our citizens in the water. This despicable act is an affront to all Filipinos. I call on the authorities to leave no stone unturned,” Hontiveros said.
“The need to protect our fisherfolks and our marine resources cannot be overemphasized through the passage of our own maritime zone law and the procurement of the necessary equipment for our [Philippine] Coast Guard as well. We await the results of the investigation being done,” Tolentino said.
House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said he supports the President’s call for patience and understanding concerning the case.
“It is paramount that we, as a nation, trust our institutions and refrain from speculating, ensuring the investigation proceeds without hindrance,” Romualdez said.
“We, in the government, are committed to ensuring they are not left to face this tragic loss alone. In these trying times, it is essential that we come together as a nation to support one another, especially the families affected,” he added.
House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT-Teachers party-list Rep. Francisca “France” Castro said the incident could have been prevented if more PCG patrols were in the area.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of this act, and we are calling on Congress to probe this incident. We also hope that the funds for the Philippine Coast Guard will be increased,” Castro added.
Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy, another deputy minority leader, said she had directed her staff to extend assistance to the victims of the tragedy.
She urged the government to declare the Bajo de Masinloc area a crime scene.
“Consequently, a navigation notice must be quickly issued to inform all ships and fisherfolk of the cordoned-off area. A group of Philippine Coast Guard ships should be deployed to Bajo de Masinloc to lay the buoys needed and to continually patrol the area during the search and retrieval operation,” Herrera-Dy said.
AGRI party-list Rep. Wilbert Lee called for stiffer penalties for the perpetrators.
“At this point, it is immaterial if it was done on purpose or not because, in the end, they left the victims there. It was clear that this is a ‘hit and run,’ that’s why there should be stiffer penalties for them,” Lee added.