Lorenzana doubts if PH boat sinking was intentional

MANILA, Philippines – After President Rodrigo Duterte dismissed the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese ship in the West Philippine Sea as a "maritime incident," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana now says he doubts if the incident was intentional.

Speaking to reporters on Monday night, June 17, Lorenzana said the government is probing the incident as information shared by Filipino fishermen involved was still incomplete.

"Yung lumalabas kasing balita sa mga fishermen, pakonti-konti. So kailangang magkaroon ng [investigation] (The news coming out from the fishermen is incomplete. So we still need to conduct an [investigation]" Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana said his recent statements seemed to be tamer than when he first "strongly condemned" the incident because the government is unsure over what really transpired.

"Kasi nga nagkakaroon tayo ng kaunting doubt kung ano ba talaga ang nangyari doon eh. Unang natanggap ko noon, kaya ako nagpalabas, is binangga. Nabangga nga talaga, pero was it intentional or not, mayroon nang doubt ngayon eh kung intentional o hindi," he added.

(We have doubts over what really transpired. What I initially received, which was why I issued a statement, is it (fishing boat) was hit. It was hit, but if it was intentional or not, there are now doubts if this was done intentionally or not.)

Lorenzana had initially condemned "in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew."

Junel Insigne, the captain of the sunken fishing boat Gem-Ver earlier said he's sure that a Chinese ship rammed and sank their boat while it was anchored near the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) – an oil-rich underwater reef formation in the West Philippine Sea that belongs to the Philippines but is coveted by China.

The 22 Filipino fishermen aboard Gem-Ver were then abandoned and left to float for hours at sea until a passing Vietnamese fishing boat rescued them.

Lorenzana also said he doubts if the incident was "state-sponsored" by China but that the Philippine government will conduct a formal inquiry into the incident. 

"Let us put the incident into its proper perspective. Hindi naman ito sponsored by a state na gagawin nila 'yun eh, kasi ang claim ng initially, ang unang lumabas sa kanila is aksidente. Ngayon we will, [have an] official inquiry.... Saka tayo makakakuha ng tamang picture kung anong nangyari," he said.

(Let us put the incident into its proper perspective. This was not sponsored by a state, because the claim initially, what they first said, is this was an accident. Now, we will [have an] official inquiry.... Then we will have a clear picture of what happened.)

The sinking incident is under investigation by at least 3 separate agencies: the Armed Forces of the Philippines - Western Command, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Maritime Industry Authority.

Meanwhile, Lorenza said the government will prioritize providing assistance to the affected fishermen, who are now worried about the future of their livelihoods. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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