Philippines to launch ‘fair’ investigation into deaths of Vietnamese fishermen

By: Euan Black - Posted on: September 26, 2017 | Current Affairs

Philippine foreign affairs secretary promises thorough probe into an incident in which two Vietnamese fishermen were shot dead trying to escape from the Philippine navy

Philippine foreign affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (L) greets Vietnam foreign minister Pham Binh Minh during the reception for the 50th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City, south Manila, Philippines, 05 August 2017. Photo: EPA/Bullit Marquez

The Philippine government announced on Monday that it had assured its Vietnamese counterparts that it would investigate the deaths of two Vietnamese fishermen who died on Saturday from gunshot wounds sustained in a clash with the Philippine navy.

The two fishermen were aboard one of six fishing vessels that had strayed into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone about 65km from the coastal city of Bolinao in the northern province of Pangasinan. According to the Philippine authorities, when a navy boat consisting of Bolinao police and coast guard personnel approached the fishing vessel, it turned off its light and sped away, resulting in a chase.

After the fishing vessel ignored repeated calls from the navy patrol boat to stop, the navy fired warning shots, according to a Bolinao police report. When the fishing vessel continued to flee, the navy fired warning shots directly at the vessel. The boats then collided before the fishing vessel sped away again and, minutes later, came to a standstill. The report said there were six bullet holes in the vessel and that the fishermen were later found to have died from gunshot wounds.

At an informal meeting between Southeast Asian foreign ministers in New York, Alan Peter Cayetano, the Philippine foreign affairs secretary, promised his counterpart, Pham Binh Minh, that the Philippines would launch a detailed investigation into the deaths of the fishermen.  

“We would like to offer our sympathies over the unfortunate loss of life and give you our assurance that we will conduct a fair and thorough investigation,” Cayetano told Minh, according to a statement released on Monday by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

The deaths are but one of a string of similar incidents in which Vietnamese fishermen have been involved in clashes in the disputed South China Sea. In July, four Vietnamese fishermen were shot and wounded by the Indonesian navy after they had trespassed approximately seven kilometres into Indonesian waters. Two months earlier, Vietnamese coast guards forcibly freed five fishing boats and their crews who had been detained by Indonesian authorities for leaving Vietnamese waters.

Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all lay claim to islands in the region – territorial aspirations that have sown division in Asean and drawn the ire of Beijing, despite an international tribunal in The Hague ruling against China’s territorial claims in the area.