MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte’s dismissive statement on the Recto (Reed) Bank incident has left Filipinos “heartbroken,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Tuesday, June 18.
Lacson and other senators on Wednesday expressed disappointment over Duterte’s first-ever statement on Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver that was sunk – and abandoned – by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on June 9.
“The President broke his silence and left us heartbroken,” Lacson tweeted a day after Duterte echoed China's position by downplaying the Philippine boat sinking that took place in Philippine territory as just a "maritime incident."
The senator did not buy Duterte’s insistence that any other action would trigger war with China, and cited the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States as a deterrent.
“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 World War 3 but at least it can make China feel the balance of power in the WPS,” Lacson said in his tweet.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the latest top US official to assure the Philippines of assistance in case China attacks its vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea. (READ: Pompeo visit: Philippines gets timely assurance from oldest ally)
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in a statement that the Duterte government was muddling the issue by focusing its investigation on whether or not the ramming of the F/B Gem-Ver was intentional. (READ: PH boat sinking 'simple,' blown 'out of proportion' – Piñol)
“Let us not muddle the issue. Whether the ramming was intentional or accidental, what is in issue, and what is clear and admitted, is that the Chinese boat captain abandoned the Philippine fishermen in distress at sea,” Drilon said.
“This violates China's obligation under the UNCLOS to rescue those in distress at sea. This is the issue that should be addressed and the basis of China's liability under international law and the UNCLOS,” the senator, a former justice secretary, added.
Drilon had earlier said that under Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), every state is required to render assistance to any person in distress or in danger of being lost at sea. This means all states have the duty to oblige masters of both state-owned or private vessels to help people in distress at sea, as in the case of the Filipino fishermen.
Drilon also dismissed as “baloney” the claim of Beijing that the Chinese vessel left out of fear of being besieged by Philippine boats in the area.
“The claim of the Chinese Embassy that the Chinese boat left because of fear of being besieged by Ph boats in the vicinity is baloney and an outright and malicious lie. If there were indeed Philippine fishing boats in the vicinity, why did it take a Vietnamese vessel to rescue the 22 Filipinos in distress? And at least one hour after the incident?” he asked.
Drilon also cited the testimony of the Filipino crew that “the Chinese boat even came back, without hesitation, with bright strong lights, to check on the Philippine boat, presumably to find out if enough damage was inflicted, and not to rescue the Filipino crew?”
From her detention cell in Camp Crame, opposition Senator Leila de Lima fumed at Duterte and his officials’ attempts to “cover up” the incident despite the testimony of the Filipino fishermen led by boat captain Junel Insigne.
“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,” said the fierce Duterte critic.
She also slammed Duterte for cancelling a special Cabinet meeting on the incident, saying it “sends a vivid signal of presidential apathy or lack of care in dealing with a matter of utmost significance. It’s ultra cowardice, if not treason, at the highest level!”
“Our very own leaders assaulting our very dignity as a people! Kaya pa ba natin ito? Ano pa ba dapat mangyari para matauhan na ang marami sa atin (Can we still take this? What else has to happen to wake up many of us)?” she said.
De Lima said in Filipino that in contrast to Philippine officials who downplayed the incident, an ordinary citizen like F/B Gem-Ver captain Insigne “has displayed a high level of conviction” when he backed out of a meeting in Malacañang.
“Sampal ito sa kanilang mga itinuturing natin na mga pinuno (This is a slap on those we consider as our leaders),” she said.
'China's echo chamber'
Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano said the President’s statement just showed that “he has become the echo chamber of China.” He also took exception to Duterte’s statement “implying that assertion of our rights in our teritory is based on ones military capability.”
“Between war and subservience, there are many options. Any leader of a country should not announce to the whole world that it can not defend themselves. Let us give some respect to our country and people,” said the former Marine captain.
Alejano said that he wanted to hear from Duterte 3 things: gratitude that the fishermen were all safe, an assurance that action would be taken to address the issue, and thanks to the crew of the Vietnamese boat who saved the Filipino fishermen.
“As a ‘friend’ it is not too much to ask to China to hold their fishermen accountable and compensate the damage done to the boat of our poor fishermen? This is actually a test of their sincerity as a friend and validation of their pronouncements if indeed they seek peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he added.
While the President and a few other Philippine officials spared China in their statements on the Recto Bank incident, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr slammed the "felony" of abandoning Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea at the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of UNCLOS, in a speech on Monday, June 17, at the United Nations headquarters in New York. – Rappler.com
Read stories related to the incident: