(Updated June 21 at 3:51 p.m.) The response of President Rodrigo Duterte on a Chinese trawler’s ramming of an anchored Filipino fishing boat after a week of silence was not appropriate for some of the senators.
The anchored fishing boat F/B GEM-VIR 1 was carrying 22 crew members who were either sleeping or resting when it was hit by a Chinese vessel near Reed or Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on June 9.
The boat later sank and the offending party left the scene without rescuing the distressed fishermen. Fortunately, a Vietnamese ship that happened to be in the vicinity rescued them.
On June 17, Duterte finally spoke up about it following calls for him to express condemnation. However, he dismissed it as a common maritime accident even with the possibility it was a consequence of China’s increasing aggression in waters within the Philippines’ jurisdiction.
“What happened in the collision is a maritime incident. Do not believe the dumb politicians who want to send the Philippine Navy. You do not send gray ships there. That is only a collision of ships,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson tweeted that he was disappointed that the president seemed to have surrendered easily.
“The president broke his silence and left us heartbroken. He forgot to explore all resources available before exercising his last option of surrender,” he said.
The senator mentioned the 1951 Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty that could be invoked.
“The MDT is one yet untapped weapon. I am not suggesting WW3 but at least it can make China feel the balance of power in the WPS,” Lacson said.
The president broke his silence and left us heartbroken. He forgot to explore all resources available before exercising his last option of surrender. The MDT is one yet untapped weapon. I am not suggesting WW3 but at least it can make China feel the balance of power in the WPS.
— PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) June 17, 2019
Lacson in another interview perceived that Duterte’s message was a show of the country’s weakness.
“It’s bad enough that we’re weak but don’t advertise that we’re weak. Magtira ka naman ng konting baraha. (Leave some cards),” he said.
He also believed the testimony of the fishermen given their consistency in the details and demeanor during interviews.
For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the president’s statement is just reflective of his character.
“Thank you for confirming who you truly are, Mr. Pres: violent & cruel towards the poor, foul-mouthed and obscene to women & democracy advocates, but feckless & spineless before China. Shame,” Hontiveros said.
Your statement on the Recto Bank hit-&-run incident reveals a lot. Thank you for confirming who you truly are, Mr. Pres: violent & cruel towards the poor, foul-mouthed & obscene to women & democracy advocates, but feckless & spineless before China. Shame.https://t.co/yZlYteTOCj
— risa hontiveros (@risahontiveros) June 17, 2019
Detained Sen. Leila De Lima called his comment on this issue as cowardly and pro-China.
Dispatch from Crame No. 535: Sen. Leila M. de Lima’s statement on Duterte’s cowardly remark regarding the Recto Bank ramming incident
This is too much! President Duterte downplaying the Recto Bank ramming incident as a “little maritime accident.”
— Leila de Lima (@SenLeiladeLima) June 18, 2019
“I see an odious yet subtle effort on the part of our executive authorities to cover up for China, implicitly accepting the flawed and implausible version proffered by the Chinese government regarding the incident, a version soundly rejected by credible observers and experts,” De Lima said on Twitter.
“The pro-China Duterte regime is hard put at supporting the causes of the Filipino fishermen victimized by this latest act of bullying within our own EEZ,” she added.
Sen. Nancy Binay expressed a stronger stance against Duterte’s take of the tragedy.
“What if iba ang naging scenario, and all the 22 crew members died at sea? Paano kung walang mga Vietnamese na sumaklolo? At kung namatay silang lahat, sino ang paniniwalaang kwento? China pa rin ba?” Binay said.
She also lamented that China’s claims overshadowed that of the victims.
“Mahirap paniwalaan na aksidente yung nangyari dahil maraming beses na itong nangyari di lang sa mga Pilipinong mangingisda, at alam ng ating Navy ‘yan. Ang nakakalungkot lang, China’s statements have overshadowed the testimonies and first-hand accounts of the crew,” Binay said.
For Sen. Joel Villanueva, the government may still be in a state of confusion for perceiving the event as a maritime accident.
“One thing is clear to our minds. It seems that in this particular case, even the government is in a state of confusion,” Villanueva said.
He also believed, however, that China should be held responsible for what happened.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian took a neutral stance and just called on to hasten the investigation.
“Ang aking panawagan, bilisan ‘yung imbestigasyon nang maparusahan ‘yung gumawa ito. Importante na mabilis na ma-resolve itong issue na ito dahil sensitive itong issue na ito at ang gusto natin ay mabigyan ng katarungan ‘yung ating mga mangingisda para lumamig ang issue,” Gatchalian said.
Duterte’s lone backer so far is Sen. Cynthia Villar who said she agreed with the president that what happened was an accident.
“Ang opinyon po ni President maliit na incident lang daw ‘yun na hindi dapat makaapekto sa relationship natin with China,” she said.