Malacañang on Monday, June 17, maintained that the Philippines is no slave to China after President Rodrigo Duterte got flak for staying mum on the issue of a Filipino fishing boat sinking when it was hit by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on June 9.
According to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Duterte is merely practicing caution while waiting for all the facts to come to light before making a declaration on the incident.
“We can never be slaves to anyone,” he said at a press briefing on Monday, June 17.
“We have to determine exactly which among the two versions is true. We have to cautiously walk on this. We can’t issue statements without the facts. [The president] is not silent. He is waiting for the facts to set in before he makes any declaration,” Panelo added.
After the Chinese vessel abandoned F/B Gem-Vir I (Gemver), the boat’s crew floundered in the water until a Vietnamese fishing boat arrived hours later to help and rescue the Filipino fishermen.
China, for its part, disputed the Filipino fishermen’s accounts, insisting that the Chinese ship did not abandon them. The Yuemaobinyu 42212 ship only left after it was “suddenly besieged” by seven or eight Filipino boats, according to the Chinese embassy.
Fishing boat owner Felix dela Torre expressed his feelings during a recent interview and said the country is a slave to China as evidenced by Filipinos no longer having rights over their territory.
However, Panelo maintained the Duterte administration would not allow any assault on Philippine sovereignty.
“Sovereignty is never a subject of negotiation,” he said, and pointed out that the Chinese fishermen are not allowed to fish in Recto Bank.
“If it’s our territory and they’re there, of course it’s wrong. But we do not know if they are fishing there… there are conflicting versions (of the incident),” Panelo added.
U.S. envoy: Responsible party must be made accountable
United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said there should be an investigation into the incident. He also added that what happened was a reminder of how important it is to develop a code of conduct with regards to the laws of the sea.
“First of all I’m glad that all Filipino fishermen were saved, that there were no lives lost from the incident,” he told reporters. “I think it is very important that there will be a full investigation of what happened and that those responsible should be held accountable,” he said, during his visit at a Davao City teen clinic supported by the United States Assistance for International Development (USAID).
“It is also a reminder of the importance of developing a meaningful code of conduct, the effort that the U.S. has been supportive for years. It is also the reminder of the importance of responsible maritime activities according to a system for international law and practices.”
For Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, Duterte’s silence over the issue was just appropriate, saying that his restraint was understandable.
At a briefing on Monday, he said: “The president was right in showing restraint in making decisions over that incident. There are a lot of angles that need to be looked at. It is just right that he did not meddle immediately. Why will he speak when the investigation has yet to be clear?”
“People would like the president to respond right away but we have to understand that any statement made by the president is a policy statement. When he is calm and restrained that is because he wants to get a clear picture of the whole thing,” he added.
Piñol urged everyone to “to understand that the President has to listen to all sides and get every angle possible.”
Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said that a clearer picture of the Recto Bank incident is expected very soon.
A probe on the incident has been launched by the PCG to determine if the Recto Bank collision was a deliberate ramming or a maritime accident.
“Our investigators were able to get the statement of all the fishermen involved. The report is almost done,” PCG spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo said.