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Recto Bank event a mishap

Mario J. Mallari

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PCCI donates P1-milion to 22 rescued fishermen

Malacañang urged China to probe the collision between a suspected Chinese vessel and a Filipino fishing boat and, if warranted, impose sanctions against crew members who left troubled local fishermen at sea as the military released initial findings that it was an accident.

The contact between a Chinese vessel and a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank that happened on Sunday midnight was accidental based on initial reports received by the military’s Western Command (Wescom) from another ship that was in the area during the incident.

“Initial reports reaching this command from our operating unit that they have received info from the boat captain of F/B 076 stating that a certain Chinese vessel accidentally collided with a Filipino fishing boat,” Wescom said in a statement.

The Wescom, however, did not identify the boat captain, who supposedly witnessed the collision of the alleged Chinese vessel and F/B GIMVER 1, owned by Felix de la Torre and operated by Jonel Insigme, both of San Jose Oriental Mindoro.

The vessel sank but a Vietnamese ship went to rescue the 22 crew members of the Filipino vessel.

Outrageous act

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, however, called the incident and the abandonment of the Pinoys at sea “uncivilized, outrageous, inhuman and barbaric.”

“Regardless of the nature of the collision, whether it was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the downed Philippine vessel. The safety of the crew of the damaged Filipino vessel should have been the uppermost thought and helping them should have been the natural reaction of the crew of the other vessel,” Panelo said during a Palace briefing.

“We call on the appropriate Chinese authorities to probe the collision and impose the proper sanctions to the Chinese crew,” he added, and then went on to extend the government’s sincere gratitude to the crew of a Vietnamese vessel who came to the rescue of the Pinoys following the collision.

Protest filed

Barely hours after the collision, a diplomatic protest was filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) against Beijing.

Responding to opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s suggestion for the DFA to bring the matter to the international forum, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he had filed a protest.

Locsin also reminded Trillanes that the United States failed the Philippine government during the 2012 standoff at the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

Incidentally, Trillanes served then as former President Benigno Aquino’s emissary to China to resolve the tension sparked by the attempt of a Philippine Navy ship to accost Chinese fishing vessels caught poaching along Scarborough Shoal, located approximately 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales.

“Thanks, meanwhile I fired off a diplomatic protest yesterday,” Locsin tweeted in response to Trillanes’ recommendation for the DFA to bring the matter to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“The Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO is it; but, Sonny, that I will proceed on the merits of the case and what it calls for while the matter is studied by the IMO. Even our ally failed us in Scarborough, remember?” he added.

Don’t jump the gun

Panelo likewise confirmed the filing of a diplomatic protest. The official said that Malacañang is now “waiting for a response” from China regarding the issue while Philippine authorities are also conducting their own probe.

“We want to find out first if it was really, if it was intentional. It’s a different story if it was intentional,” Panelo said.

He furthered that whether it was a Chinese vessel or another ship from a foreign country, “if it is intentional, it’s an act of aggression.”

Mr. Duterte’s official mouthpiece, however, cautioned against Manila quickly cutting diplomatic ties with Beijing and stressed that the government’s next course of action should be “calibrated.”

“First, you have to file a diplomatic protest, which we already did. If we’re not content with their explanation that it was really unintentional, then that’s another story,” Panelo stated.

“Our responses will always be calibrated, depending on the degree. But, definitely, we will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, to be bullied, to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions from any source,” he added.

The President during his last bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last April, raised the issue about China’s perceived aggressive activities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and invoked the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling invalidating the latter’s nine-dash line claims in the contested territory.

Xi, however, reiterated their government’s stance of not recognizing the international tribunal’s verdict.

In his speech at a business summit in Tokyo, Japan last month, Mr. Duterte brought up the country’s sovereign claims over parts of the WPS and called on China to step up its efforts in crafting a code of conduct for the strategic waterway with the Philippines and other claimant countries.

Diplomatic steps urged

The boat on Sunday hit a Filipino craft anchored near Recto Bank – claimed by both Manila and Beijing – causing it to sink and leaving 22 crewmen “to the mercy of the elements,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

Although President Duterte has largely set aside the bitter dispute with Beijing over the resource-rich waterway, Manila does sometimes protest against Chinese action.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the suspected Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew,” Lorenzana said in a statement.

“This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people.”

Lorenzana called for an investigation into the collision, and for “diplomatic steps” to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Solon fumes

Sen. Richard Gordon condemned the abandonment of the Filipino crew of the Philippine boat.

The lawmaker said that it is an act of inhumanity as the Chinese crew did not help the Filipinos who were “in peril of the sea” urging the government to hold them accountable.

“I take umbrage at the Chinese crew’s act of leaving and abandoning the Filipino crew after their boat collided with the latter’s vessel and sank near the Recto (Recto) Bank in the West Philippine Sea last Sunday,” Gordon said.

“They committed acts of inhumanity by leaving and abandoning people who are in peril of the sea and they should answer for it,” he added.

With Kristina Maralit and Hananeel Bordey

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