In a speech during the 121st anniversary of the Philippine Navy, Duterte finally broke his silence eight days after the incident in which a Chinese boat hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat and abandoned 22 Filipino fishermen in the open waters. They were rescued three hours later by a Vietnamese vessel.
“Stay out of trouble. Just build on our own. Let us not meddle with it. Do not allow a little maritime accident, or intentional, [be the reason] to go to war,” Duterte told Navy soldiers at Sangley Point, Cavite.
The President said he was not prepared to issue a statement until a full investigation had been completed.
“A maritime incident is a maritime incident. It is best investigated. And I do not now issue a statement because there is no investigation and there is no result,” he said.
“The only thing we can do is to wait. Give the other party the right to be heard. That’s important. China, what’s the truth here?”
Duterte said a collision of two fishing vessels was not enough to create tension in the disputed waters.
“I said, I’m not a fool President. If we have to die then we will have to die in a correct way. And to die with dignity. Not just on the collision,” Duterte said.
He rejected suggestions that he deploy more ships to the area.
“Do not believe the stupid politicians. They want to bring the Navy there. You do not send gray ships there. Collisions will only happen,” he said.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua will be summoned to Malacañang to explain China’s side of the incident.
This was after the Cabinet clusters specifically concerned with the country’s security and economy conducted a three-hour meeting to determine the extent of liabilities in the incident.
The meeting, which focused on the protection of Filipinos and their exercise of their rights in the coungtry’s exclusive economic zone, ended with two missions for the resolution of the issue.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) will conduct a fact-finding mission to investigate the incident.
Aside from this, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol was designated chairman of the government response focused primarily on assisting the 22 affected fishermen.
Earlier, the Palace asserted that the Philippines was not a slave to China, despite the tepid response from the President.
“Of course, the response is we can never be slaves to anyone. [And] that includes every country in the world,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said, after the owner of the Filipino fishing boat rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel said he felt inferior to the Chinese after the incident eight days ago.
“It’s like we are slaves of China. It’s like we have no rights over our own territory,” said Felix dela Torre, owner of the sunken F/B Gem-Ver.
Dela Torre, along with 21 other Filipino fishermen, were near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea when a Chinese vessel hit and sank their boat, then abandoned them in open water. The fishermen were rescued three hours later by a Vietnamese vessel.
Panelo said the Palace does not doubt the statement of the fishermen, but wanted to know all the facts “since there is a contrary claim.”
“When you have been told that they were abandoned just like that, of course, you will react that way. But the subject of our complaint said, ‘Hey, we did not do that.’ [So, we say] Really? Then show us,” Panelo said.
Panelo urged the public not to jump to conclusions, saying the President was still waiting for all the facts to come in.
“He (Duterte) is not silent, he’s waiting for the facts to set in before he makes any declaration,” Panelo said.
Earlier, Panelo had described the actions of the Chinese vessel as “outrageous, barbaric and uncivilized.” On Monday, he said the outrage would remain “until such time as we’re proven wrong.”
“There are two versions, so we have to determine the truth,” he said, saying that the Philippines, as one of the many claimants of the disputed waters, has to proceed cautiously.
He also said it was premature to say the Chinese vessel violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by abandoning the Filipino fishermen.
Piñol on Monday said he believed “an investigation by the proper authorities” must be conducted to determine whether the ramming of a Filipino boat by a Chinese vessel was “accidental or intentional.”
In an ANC television interview, Piñol said the sinking of the Filipino boat was “a simple maritime incident.”
“They [fishermen] have no complaint against the President [Rodrigo Duterte]. I don’t know why the President is being dragged into the issue, which is to be handled at our level,” he said.
“I don’t understand why the people are blowing this out of proportion,” he added.
He said he has talked to one of the owners of the fishing boat, Erlinda dela Torre, and the cook, Richard Blaza, who personally witnessed the incident at midnight between June 9 and June 10.
He said Blaza was the only person awake cooking rice for the fishermen’s food for their journey when the incident took place in Recto Bank.
“According to Mr. Blaza, he noticed a vessel approaching them, prompting him to run to the captain to wake him up and alarm him. The captain was about to do something when all of sudden their fishing
boat [f/b Gen-Ver 1] was rammed,” he said.
“When the vessel hit the boat, it stopped, turned on all the lights and circled the location of the fishermen who were already on the waters because their boat was half-submerged,” he added.
“The witness said he could not say for certain whether the ramming was accidental or intentional. But what is certain is this a gross violation of the Maritime Law,” he said.
He said he did not cast a single doubt on the account of Blaza.
“No, what agenda would he have in telling lies,” he said.
But he dispelled reactions on the social media that the incident was orchestrated to stir tensions between the Philippines and China.
Dela Torre told Piñol that she lost P700,000 in goods and P500,000 in capital investment.
The Department of Agriculture secretary also denied media reports that the incident was “stage-managed,” and “the fishermen were Navy soldiers.”
He denied speculations that “the sinking of the boat was not real and the photos we posted were fake.”
The only involvement of the DA is “to make sure the fishermen are protected and supported,” he said.
On Monday, the mayor of the Occidental Mindoro town that is home to the fishing vessel said Chinese claims that their boat was besieged by Filipino boats in the Recto Bank was a lie.
In an interview with GMA News, Romulo Festin, mayor of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, said there were no fishermen there to besiege the Chinese boat.
Also on Monday, Senator Risa Hontiveros slammed Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi for concluding that the incident was “unintentional.”
She said Cusi’s statements effectively side with China as he tried to play down the severity of the incident.
“Is there some kind of “fifth column” within the Cabinet that favors China’s attempts to silence the issue instead of trying to investigate the matter thoroughly and look after our fishermen?” she asked.
“I suggest that the Duterte government rein in its own people and stop them from making wild, outlandish remarks.”
“I also call on Secretary Cusi to apologize to our aggrieved fisherfolk and the entire nation lest he wants to be seen as a fifth column.”
READ: PH, China told: ‘Hold your fire’READ: PH, China trade barbsREAD: Boat ramming: PH outragedREAD: Chinese boat sinks PH vessel, 22 Pinoys rescued
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