By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Following the Recto Bank incident, Senator Francis Tolentino is now pushing for a passage of law that would penalize the failure to help Filipinos who find themselves distressed at sea.
Tolentino on Tuesday said he recently filed Senate Bill 209 or his proposed Good Samaritan at Sea Law, which seeks to implement international maritime laws to which the Philippines is a state party.
He particulary cited the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“I filed a bill because the UNCLOS and then the SOLAS convention of 1974 are not self-executiory. That when there are distressed Filipinos at sea, they have they right to be given assistance. That’s not within our laws,” Tolentino explained to reporters in Filipino during an interview in Senate.
But he said his proposal applies not only to Filipinos, but also foreigners who are sailing within the Philippines’ territory.
In his bill, he said such measure will “ensure that persons guilty of jeopardizing the lives of men at sea and those who unreasonably fail to render assistance to persons in distress at sea do not go unpunished.”
Under his proposed Good Samaritan at Sea law, the ship captain, its crew or passengers are mandated to render assistance to any person found at sea who are in danger of being lost; and after a collision, to the other ship’s crew and passengers and inform other ships and the nearest port.
The ship captain shall also immediately respond to distress signals.
Cases against violators can be filed before Regional Trial Courts in the province or city nearest to the place of incident.
The bill proposes a fine of not less than P5 million but not more than P10 million for those who violate their duty to render assistance to distressed persons. If the violator was the cause of the distress at sea, the fine shall be P10 million to P20 million, with a jail term of at least one year to two years.
If the violation was committed within the Philippines’ territorial waters, an additional penalty of imprisonment of at least six months to one year shall also be impposed. If committed outside the territorial sea, such as in the exclusive economic zone, the penalty shall be the imposition of fine, in relation to the Philippine Fisheries Code and the provisions of UNCLOS.
Under the bill, no foreign person shall be deported without the payment of fines and service of sentence.
Last June 9, a Chinese ship rammed a Filipino fishing boat near the Recto (Reed) Bank. It abandoned the 22 fishermen while their damaged boat sank.
Whether the ramming was intentional or accidental, Tolentino said it was “established” that the crew of the Chinese boat committed a violation for failing to rescue the distressed Filipino fishermen.
Tolentino admitted that the Philippines may have find it difficult to run after the erring Chinese locals since the incident happened only in its EEZ, wherein, he said, its jurisdiction, in so far as criminal laws are concerned, remains vague.
He added that China has also yet to acknowledge its people’s culpability in the incident.
In the absence of a specific law on the failure to render help for distressed men at sea, Tolentino said Filipinos can only ask for compensation from the Chinese crew.