MANILA, Philippines – After demanding that China sanction its nationals who abandoned Filipino fishermen near Recto (Reed) Bank, Malacañang now says demanding reparation for the incident should come only after ascertaining "facts" about the ramming.
"There will be a time to demand for reparation once the facts have been established," said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Wednesday, June 19.
"While we understand the emotional outcry of our citizens, we call on everyone to be circumspect in this time of confusion," he also said.
Malacañang continues to question whether or not the ramming by Chinese ship Yuemaobinyu 42212 was done intentionally, which Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon said serves only to muddle the issue of the Chinese crew abandoning Filipino fishermen in distress.
Earlier that day, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had said regardless of intent, the captain and crew of the Chinese vessel should still apologize and provide compensation for the Filipino fishermen.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr had also blasted the abandonment of the Filipino fishermen by the Chinese as a "felony."
Not enough facts to invoke defense treaty
Also citing a supposed lack of facts, Panelo said it is not yet time to invoke the Philippines' Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States.
In the treaty, the US must come to the Philippines' aid in case of an armed attack by a foreign state within areas covered by the agreement. Only last March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed that attacks that take place in the West Philippine Sea are covered by this critical clause.
Panelo said there are not enough facts to establish that the Recto Bank ramming incident was "an act of aggression by the Chinese government."
"Thus, invoking the strong medicine of the MDT at this time when facts about the maritime incident in our exclusive economic zone have not yet been firmly established would not only be imprudent, it would be irresponsible as well," said the Duterte spokesman.
Senator Panfilo Lacson was among those who said the Duterte government can use the MDT as a "weapon" against Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
Panelo thanked Lacson for his input but said the Duterte administration's actions "cannot be based on conjecture, speculation, or even emotion."
While Malacañang initially condemned the abandonment by the Chinese of the Filipino fishermen, it eventually cast doubt on accounts of the Filipino fishermen and expressed openness to China's version of events.
The Palace's backpedalling culminated in Duterte himself dismissing the ramming as just a "maritime incident," despite saying he would wait for a complete investigation before making any conclusions.
Recto Bank, where the ramming occurred, belongs to the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone, as affirmed by a 2016 international ruling which China continues to ignore. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.