Duterte downplays boat sinking incident anew, says Filipino fishermen were just ‘sideswiped’

President Rodrigo Duterte at the anniversary celebration of the Presidential Security Group yesterday. Photo: Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang
President Rodrigo Duterte at the anniversary celebration of the Presidential Security Group yesterday. Photo: Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang

President Rodrigo Duterte once again downplayed the boat sinking incident that occurred in the West Philippine Sea by saying yesterday that the Filipino fishermen’s boat was just sideswiped and not rammed.

Duterte said this during the anniversary celebration of the Presidential Security Group in Malacañang Palace in Manila.

On June 9, a Chinese-owned vessel hit a Filipino boat and abandoned 22 Filipino fishermen at sea near the Recto Bank (aka Reed Bank). According to the Filipino boat’s captain Junel Insigne, the Chinese crew members turned their lights on after hitting their ship, saw the Filipinos in the water screaming for help, then sped away without doing anything. The Filipinos were later rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila released a statement rejecting reports that called the incident a “hit and run.” It said that the Chinese crew did not rescue the Filipino men for fear that they will be besieged by other Filipino boats. Insigne rejected this claim and said they were the only Filipino boat in the Recto Bank when the incident occurred.

Echoing a statement he made last week, Duterte called it a mere maritime accident yesterday.

“This boat to boat collision, that is a mere maritime accident or incident. You do not react violently [to that],” he said in Filipino and English. “As a matter of fact, almost all of us [in the administration] we have agreed that [the Filipinos’ boat] was sideswiped. It wasn’t rammed [on purpose]. If it was rammed, it would have sunk to the bottom [of the sea]. It was like a car that was sideswiped.”

“Now you’re saying that it was done on purpose, then let us have an investigation … But that is no reason to go to war. You can’t say, ‘Send your ships there.’ Why would I send it there over a mere maritime [incident]?”

Both the Philippine and Chinese governments have called for a joint investigation on the incident, a plan that has been slammed by critics.

Duterte downplayed the boat sinking incident further by saying that no one was hurt by what occurred. “No one was stabbed. No one fired their gun. It was just an accident and they (Filipinos) were left.”

Duterte said that he met Chinese officials in Bangkok during the ASEAN Summit who explained to him their version of the story. The explanation given to him echoes the Chinese government’s earlier statement saying that the Chinese-owned trawler sped away because it was scared that it will be attacked by “seven or eight” other Filipino boats who were allegedly in the same area.

“According to China, I met them in Bangkok, they (other Filipino boats) were closing in on them (Chinese). They (Chinese) were scared that they will be attacked by [the other Filipino boats] that’s why they left [and didn’t help the Filipino fishermen]. Whether that is a good answer or not … you cannot force another answer [from the Chinese] if they don’t want to give one.

According to a maritime law expert, it was impossible for the Chinese to be besieged by other Filipino-owned boats because satellite data showed that the vessels on that day were so far apart from each other, Rappler reported.

The president also used last night’s occasion to criticize former foreign affairs secretary and vocal China critic Albert del Rosario, who was barred from entering Hong Kong last week. Del Rosario arrived in the city using a diplomatic passport. After the incident, current Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. canceled all courtesy diplomatic passports that were issued to former Filipino diplomats.

“When he (del Rosario) was caught in Hong Kong, he used a passport that he was not allowed to use. You are no longer in government, you have no business using a government diplomatic passport,” Duterte said.

Del Rosario has criticized China and even called them a “bully” for proposing a joint investigation of the West Philippine Sea incident.

Along with a group of Filipino fishermen and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, he also filed a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking Chinese government officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March. Their complaint asserted that China has committed destructive fishing activities in the area and built military infrastructures on the islands.

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