Drilon suggests independent body to probe Recto Bank incident

Chad de Guzman, CNN Philippines

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is not keen on having a Philippines-China joint probe over the Recto Bank incident, but he said Monday that he is open to having an independent investigating body.

“What I will propose, that instead of a joint panel we should create an independent probe body similar to what was formed in the past during the time of former President Arroyo. If you recall, the Feliciano Commission was formed to look into the Oakwood incident and the Melo Commission was created to look into the political killings,” Drilon was quoted saying in an interview Monday.

The probe body, according to Drilon, must be created by the President and must also be given jurisdiction to make recommendations, inquire into the Recto Bank incident, and submit the report to the President and the Congress.

“By having this, we are able to resolve this issue with credibility and, at the same time, we are able to maintain the sovereignty of our country or our national pride,” Drilon said.

Drilon said he would prefer to have the body led by a retired Supreme Court justice.

The Senate leader earlier said conducting a joint probe will weaken the Philippines’ claims on the West Philippine Sea.

“The incident happened within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, as declared by the arbitral award. So, maliwanag na yung Recto Bank ay kasama sa ating [its clear that the Recto Bank is part of our] exclusive economic zone,” he said.

He reiterated that Republic Act 10654, or the amended Fisheries Code, prohibits any foreign person, corporation or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters.

“There is no question that the Chinese vessel’s being in the exclusive economic zone violated our laws,” he said.

Drilon also nixed President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to include another country in the joint probe.

“It’s not credible. And not only the credibility is the issue, because you have a lot of legal complications and sovereignty issues.” he said.

“If we are saying that the Recto Bank is within the exclusive economic zone of the country – which fact is confirmed by the arbitration ruling – then, why are we allowing non-Filipinos to inquire into this? We should do it ourselves. If China wants to make its own inquiry, that’s fine with us,” Drilon added.

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