THE Malaysian government expressed regret over the beating of Filipino fishermen who were arrested May 9 at Rizal Reef in the Spratly Islands and pledged to punish the navy seamen involved in the incident, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.
Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Rene Almendras said the Malaysian government will also compensate the three Filipino fishermen, who were arrested by a Malaysian navy patrol at Rizal Reef, also called Commodore Reef, one of the nine Spratly Islands territories claimed by the Philippines.
In a television interview, Almendras said the Malaysian government informed the Philippines that they are already in the process of the punishments for the people who did it.
“In any form, whether agitated or not, beating up is not acceptable,” he said. “The DFA is monitoring the Malaysian government’s actions on the naval personnel involved in the incident.”
The Filipino fishermen on board a Philippine fishing vessel was about 29 km southwest of Rizal Reef when a Malaysian patrol boat intercepted it for supposedly encroaching on Malaysian waters.
When the vessel tried to flee, the patrol boat gave chase and briefly detained the fishermen.
Malaysia and the Philippines have overlapping exclusive economic zones in the disputed South China Sea, which is believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.
But Brunei, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the area, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
The fishermen, although released on the same day by Malaysian authorities, claimed they were punched and kicked while being questioned by Malaysia’s navy officers.
Despite the incident, Almendras said relations with Malaysia remain “good” as he noted that protocols were followed and there was close interaction between the two governments to address the incident.
“The fact that they were released the same day and they were returned immediately and there was no cover-up as far as the Malaysian navy is concerned. The people who did it were immediately taken into custody… It proves we have a very good relationship,” the DFA said.