MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang sees no contradiction in the findings of a government report that the Recto Bank boat sinking was a "serious marine casualty" and the description of President Rodrigo Duterte of the same incident as a "little maritime accident."
"There is no contradiction," said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Monday, July 8 during a Palace news briefing.
"In so far as that incident is concerned given the fact that Filipinos were placed in a dangerous situation where they could have been dead, then that's a serious marine casualty," he elaborated.
"But when the President said it's not serious enough to plow it into international crisis, that is what he meant. So both of them are correct," he added.
When Duterte described the collision involving Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver as a "little maritime accident," he had not yet seen the PCG-Marina report. He first spoke of the incident on June 17 whereas the report was submitted to his office on June 20.
On June 17, this is what Duterte said about the incident: "Stay out of trouble. Just build on our own. Huwag muna tayong makialam (Let’s not interfere). Do not allow a little maritime accident, or intentional, (to make us) go to war."
However, there had already been an initial PCG report that classified the boat ramming as a "serious marine casualty."
The PCG-Marina document, first reported by Rappler, classified the boat ramming incident in terms of casualty event severity as "very serious marine casualty due to loss of ship."
Duterte also subsequently described the impact of the Chinese fishing vessel upon the Filipino boat as a mere "sideswipe." Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, the first Duterte Cabinet member deployed to speak with the Gem-Ver crew, dismissed the impact as a mere grazing ("daplis lang") which frustrated some of the fishermen.
In contrast to this downplaying, the initial PCG report said the Chinese ship hit Gem-Ver in such a way that it caused the Filipino boat to break into two.
"The said fishing vessel already hit the aft portion of their FBCA causing it to break into two. The boom of the vessel ran through the structures of their FBCA and almost instantly, ‘FBCA Gim-Ver’ had submerged," reads the initial report.
Duterte and other Cabinet members had been criticized by groups for downplaying the Recto Bank ramming despite repeated insistence that the public await results of an official investigation before making conclusions.
Panelo has hit back at such criticism, saying detractors of the President were "politicizing" the issue. – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.