Philippines fires off diplomatic protest over boat sinking

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that if the sinking of the boat is found to be “intentional,” it could be considered as an act of aggression that will warrant cutting off diplomatic ties. AFP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

MANILA, Jun 14, 2019, PhilStar. The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest over the sinking of a fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank on June 9, with the Chinese abandoning the Filipino fishermen in the sea, reported the Philippine Star.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that if the sinking of the boat is found to be “intentional,” it could be considered as an act of aggression that will warrant cutting off diplomatic ties.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he “fired off” a diplomatic protest Wednesday, but gave no details.

Panelo said the incident, which happened on Philippine-China Friendship Day and three days before Independence Day, left President Duterte outraged.

China said the incident is being “thoroughly and seriously investigated.”

Panelo said he had communicated with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to inform the envoy about the “uproar” caused by the incident.

“To the credit of the Chinese government, the ambassador of China texted me earlier, that they’re seriously and cautiously investigating the case,” Panelo said last night. He said Zhao informed him that the Chinese people “share your concerns about fishermen.”

In his text message shared by Panelo with the media, Zhao declared, “If it were true that it was Chinese fishing boat which did it, they would be duly educated and punished for their irresponsible behavior. Incidents happen even in the best regulated family. We hope this incident could be held in a proper context.”

The incident threatens to endanger the blooming relationship between the Duterte administration and Beijing, nurtured by his constant reminder to China that he is willing to set aside the South China Sea dispute.

“Regardless of the nature of the collision, whether it was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the downed Philippine vessel,” Panelo said.

Asked what the government would do if it is proven that the collision was an act of aggression, he replied, “We will cut off diplomatic relations.‘Yan ang unang ginagawa ng mga… ‘pag mayroong mga (That’s the first thing to do if there are) aggressive acts.”

Initial reports said the Chinese vessel hit an anchored F/B Gimver 1 at around midnight and left without rescuing the Filipinos. Vietnamese fishermen plucked the Filipinos from the water hours later. The incident took place within Philippine waters.

Based on accounts of the skipper of the fishing boat as told by his cousin to GMA News “Unang Balita,” the fishermen were jolted from sleep by the impact of the collision.

“Ayon po sa kuwento ng pinsan ko na kapitan ng bangka, naka-anchor po sila doon sa area na pinagbanggaan, nagulat na lang po sila dahil hatinggabi po, may ano, wasak na, ’yun pala nabangga na sila ng barko ng China (According to my cousin who is the boat skipper, they were anchored in the area where they got hit, and were awakened at midnight and everything was destroyed as they had just been hit by a Chinese boat),” Jimwel Tañedo, who claimed to be a cousin of the skipper, said.

Tañedo added the Filipino fishermen had no idea if the Chinese ship had sent out a warning signal before the collision. He said it was already daybreak when they spotted the Vietnamese ship that rescued them.

Panelo said the government is calling on Beijing to conduct its own probe and hold accountable the crew of the vessel who opted to sail away and leave the Filipinos floundering in the water.

Panelo said the administration would be decisive in dealing with the issue just as it had been in addressing the garbage shipment controversy with Canada. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recalled its diplomats in Canada following Ottawa’s failure to meet the May 15 deadline set by Duterte for the return of the garbage shipment to the North American nation.

“First, you file a diplomatic protest. If you’re not content with their explanation and if it’s clear that it was intentional, then that’s another story,” he said.

“Our responses will always be calibrated, depending on the degree. But definitely, we will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, to be bullied, to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions from any source,” Panelo said. He also cited the government’s prompt response to aid the distressed fishermen.

“The Palace is in parity with the view of the Secretary of National Defense (Delfin Lorenzana) as regards the collision between a Filipino vessel and a Chinese ship, which transpired in the West Philippine Sea at night on June 9,” Panelo said.

He also emphasized that no maritime disagreement should prevent one party from running to the aid of the other in distress at sea.

“(It) should have been the uppermost thought and helping them should have been the natural reaction of the crew of the other vessel,” he said.

“The captain and the crew of the Chinese vessel should not have left the injured party without any assistance or succor. Such act of desertion is inhuman as it is barbaric,” Panelo pointed out.

“It is crystal-clear violation of maritime protocols as well as an infringement of internationally accepted practice of assisting a vessel in distress,” he said.

Malacañang thanked the Vietnamese who rescued the Filipinos.

“We express our sincere gratitude to the seamen of a Vietnamese vessel who rendered relief services to the distressed Filipino fishermen following the collision,” Panelo said.

Locsin, meanwhile, stressed there’s no proof yet if the Chinese had intentionally hit the Filipino fishing boat.

“Wrong. It’s presumably an ‘allision’ or bumping of two vessels, one of which was stationary. Ramming is another thing altogether, requiring proof of intentionality. So far as I know none of us is a mind reader not least because some of us have no mind with which to read another,” Locsin said.

He also rejected a netizen’s suggestion that the country seek the help of the international community in making the Chinese accountable for the June 9 incident.

“F*** the international community. It can be bought. This is our fight and in the end ours alone,” he said.

Is it Chinese?

A diplomatic protest has already been filed – at least according to the DFA – but the coast guard is not yet ready to link the Chinese to the June 9 sinking of a Filipino fishing boat.

For the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command (Wescom) based in Palawan, however, the Chinese were the culprits – at least based on initial investigation.

“We would verify and conduct an investigation to know the circumstances surrounding what happened. At this time, reports that a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino fishing boat is just an allegation, that is why we are waiting for the 22 fishermen to arrive in Occidental Mindoro so we could interview them and ask if a Chinese vessel rammed their boat,” Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Captain Armand Balilo said.

The PCG-Southern Tagalog District has been assigned the case because its jurisdiction covers Occidental Mindoro, where the 22 fishermen come from. They are expected to arrive on board the Navy’s BRP Alcaraz at the San Jose Port today.

“We would check all angles and we would come out with solid evidence,” Balilo said.

He said the PCG wants to know other details like the make and type of the vessel that hit the Filipino fishing boat as well as the possible reason why its crew abandoned the Filipinos.

Balilo said that under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, the vessel that rammed the Gimver 1 should have rendered assistance to the fishermen.

“The normal reaction of a fisherman in that situation is to help the distressed. If the (earlier) accounting is accurate, then we would condemn the act,” he said.

He stressed that if the incident was intentional, “the vessel responsible should be reprimanded and that a diplomatic protest should be filed.”

PCG Command Center chief Commander Angel Viliran said, “Since time immemorial the Recto Bank has served as a fishing ground for the Vietnamese and the Filipino fishermen.”

Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante, Wescom spokesman, said the rescued fishermen themselves confirmed the boat that rammed theirs was Chinese.

“Initial reports of our units who reported here in our headquarters, citing Jonel Insigme, the captain of the ill-fated fishing boat, stated that a certain Chinese vessel collided with their fishing boat midnight of June 9,” Penetrante said.

He said such incident was bound to happen because China was aggressively enforcing its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

“What happened was a mishap in waiting mainly because of the Chinese fishermen’s mindset that being members of the maritime militia of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), thought that Filipino fishermen are just like them,” a senior security official said.

“Wherever their coast guard vessels and their gray ships are, the PLAN militias are also there,” he said.

From the Vietnamese boat, the Filipinos were able to radio sister-boat A/G Thanksgiving for help. The ill-fated vessel was owned by a certain Felix dela Torre.

“What happened out there was somewhat a case of hit and run because the erring fishing boat just sailed away after the collision. If you see the initial report there was intentionality,” Penetrante said.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said the Chinese boat violated the “rules of the (maritime) road.”

The “Rules of the Road” is also known as the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGs).

“You can’t just hit a ship and then escape,” Empedrad said, adding that assisting persons in distress on the high seas is also conscience- based.

With Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude, Evelyn Macairan

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