Malacanang described the sinking as a violation of international law, but said President Rodrigo Duterte has been silent on the issue because he is a “very cautious man” who makes “calibrated responses.”
President Duterte’s office said the abandonment of the Filipino crew was “barbaric,” while Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana condemned the Chinese trawler’s “cowardly action.”
Reports said a Chinese vessel collided with the FB Gimver1 while it was anchored near the Recto Bank Sunday, then left the 22 Filipino fishermen in open water after their boat had sunk.
The Filipinos were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
Neither Beijing nor Manila have officially confirmed the boat involved in the hit-and-run incident was Chinese-registered.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called the incident “an ordinary maritime traffic accident” and said China was still investigating.
He added, however: “If the relevant reports are true, regardless of the country from which the perpetrator came from, their behavior should be condemned.”
Geng said it was irresponsible for the Philippines to “politicize the incident without verification.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told ANC that Duterte is taking the “right approach” on the issue.
“I have full confidence in how President Duterte and [Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro] Locsin see the issue,” Arroyo told ANC’s Tina Monzon Palma in an exclusive interview to be broadcast Monday.
“Take calibrated response and be as civil as they have to be. I think that’s [the] right approach,” the Speaker, who like Duterte has forged closer ties with Beijing during her presidency, said.
Despite a military assessment stating the contrary, Panelo said it was still too early to conclude that the Chinese vessel intentionally rammed the Filipino boat.
Still, he condemned the abandonment of the Filipino fishermen as “barbaric.”
Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, the Philippine Navy Flag-Officer-in-Command, contradicted Beijing’s description of the collision, noting the Filipino vessel was anchored when it happened.
“So if you based it on international rules of the road, the ship anchored has the privilege because it cannot evade, but the ship was rammed, so this is not a normal maritime accident,” Empedrad said.
“It could be seen in your radar that the vessel is not moving. So if the vessel is not moving, why would you ram it,” the Navy chief added.
In defending Duterte’s silence, Panelo said the Recto Bank incident was more sensitive than the recent diplomatic row between Canada and the Philippines over tons of garbage a Canadian company had shipped to Manila illegally.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros earlier criticized the President for being silent and urged him to recall the country’s representatives to China, the same way he did to Canada.
Panelo said the Philippines may cut ties with China if the collision is found to be intentional.
“On Canada, the issue there was only about garbage, so I think this incident at sea is more sensitive. So if you follow the action of the President, logically our ties will be affected, especially if we are not satisfied with their explanation,” he said.
“We asked them to investigate the incident and take punitive actions against the wrongdoers,” the Palace spokesman said.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua promised that the incident would be thoroughly and seriously investigated.
“If it were true that it was Chinese fishing boat which did it, they would be duly educated and punished for their irresponsible behavior,” the envoy said in a text message to Panelo.
“Incidents happen even in the best-regulated family. We hope this incident could be held in a proper context,” he added.
Panelo also denied the Chinese foreign ministry claim.
“We are not politicizing that incident. What we’re focusing is on the act of abandoning, not the collision itself because collisions happen in the high seas but the act of abandoning [the fishermen] is in violation of UNCLOS, the United Nations Law on the Seas,” Panelo said in an interview.
“You don’t even need an international law provision on that. It’s a human act of lending hand to somebody in distress,” he said.
The Philippines has already filed a diplomatic protest and said that proper sanctions must be imposed against the Chinese crew who allegedly abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday confirmed that the Philippine government has filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.
Hontiveros on Friday lashed back at Panelo, who said they did not need advice from her.
“This isn’t advice on wardrobe, diet or interior design,” she said on Twitter.
Since it concerns all Filipinos, “all suggestions on how best to respond should be welcomed and considered.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan, Liberal Party president, urged the administration to reverse its policy of subservience and appeasement.
“No self-respecting nation in the world will stay meek and docile in the face of such cruelty and aggression,” he said.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV warned that the alarming situation that could further escalate tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
GMA News on Friday reported that the 22 fishermen whose boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel were expected to arrive in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.
The crewmen will undergo medical checkup and debriefing once they arrive in San Jose town, the report said.
Panelo also thanked the crew of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity which he said brought the Filipinos to safety.
Like the Philippines, Vietnam has partial claims over the South China Sea, where Beijing has staked “indisputable sovereignty” and built artificial islands with military facilities and airstrips.
Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia also have claims in the area.
Reed Bank is about 150 kilometres (93 miles) off the Philippine island of Palawan. It is within Manila’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and far from China’s nearest major landmass. With Nat Mariano, Francisco Tuyay and AFPREAD: Boat ramming: PH outragedREAD: Chinese boat sinks PH vessel, 22 Pinoys rescued
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