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Recto Bank row ‘milked dry’

Alvin Murcia



The Palace said China and the Philippines are compelled to put closure to the Recto Bank collision controversy since it is being milked dry by critics to vilify both Presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said China also wanted to put the issue to rest since it has been affecting diplomatic relations with the Philippines.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua had expressed the Chinese government’s desire to resolve the issue immediately, according to Panelo.

“The impression on me is that it is being milked by opponents of the President. So we have to put closure to this since it is being overblown,” he said.

The controversy stemmed from the 9 June incident where 22 Filipino fishermen were left adrift in the open sea for hours after their boat was hit by a Chinese vessel while anchored in Recto Bank. A Vietnamese ship later rescued them.

To the max

“It is being milked to the maximum. A rift or confusion resulted since from the inception, the premise was wrong. The premise is that the incident was the Chinese government’s fault despite the involvement of a private vessel. So the critics are asking why China did that but its turned out to be a private vessel,” Panelo said.

“So the problem started from that, the assumption was wrong. Since it was a private vessel, China issued a statement ‘we will investigate and if we find the guilty party is a Chinese vessel, then we will impose sanction because we will not tolerate irresponsible behavior,’” Panelo added.

Panelo said governments follow a diplomatic process which makes it inappropriate to follow the suggestion of “aggressive assertion.”

“What do they mean with aggressive assertion, should it involve bringing armed vessels to the disputed area to maintain the situation?” he asked.

Serve, protect

“They are forgetting that China has claimed ownership on the entire South China Sea. To their mind, any intrusion to that area which they claimed sovereign right will be seen to be an assault against its sovereignty and therefore will be repelled by force, the way they are repelling the force against Vietnam, against Malaysia,” Panelo added. Bloody encounters happened in the past involving claimants which the President did not want repeated, he said.

“The constitutional command is very clear. Under Section 4 or Article 2 of the Constitution it provides: The prime duty of the government – which this President head by the way — is to protect and — or rather ‘to serve and protect the people,’” Panelo added.

He said that all parts of the Constitution relative to the protection of the entire country is based on that provision tasking him to serve and to protect the people.

Compromise expected

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also expressed optimism both countries would come up with a consensus on how the probe will be undertaken.

Though he admitted that the government cannot compel China to allow a neutral third party to look into the incident, the justice chief said the two countries will likely sort out whatever their differences. He said they cannot force a party to do something it doesn’t want to do.

“Assuming there will be a disagreement as to the factual findings, I guess the two parties will just have to sort it out, continue to negotiate until a consensus is arrived,” he added.
Guevarra assured the Philippines and China will exert all effort to reach “a consensus and satisfactory” resolution to the incident.