Duterte no longer meeting with captain of sunken fishing boat today; president remains silent on issue

Photo: Jeff Canoy/ABS-CBN News.
Photo: Jeff Canoy/ABS-CBN News.

A meeting between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the captain of the Philippine fishing boat hit by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea will no longer push through as reportedly planned today after a special cabinet meeting to discuss the issue was canceled.

Captain Junel Insigne of the F/B GEM-VIR1 was meant to share his side of the story to Duterte in Manila today. He was already on his way to catch a boat in his home province of Occidental Mindoro when his wife called him and told him to go home because the cabinet meeting had been canceled, ABS-CBN News reported.

The cabinet meeting was announced yesterday and was supposed to take place in the Malacañang Palace this afternoon after the president attends the Philippine Navy anniversary celebration in Sangley Point, Cavite. But just a few hours later, executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea announced that the meeting had been canceled.

News of the meeting between Duterte and Insigne came from San Jose, Occidental Mindoro Mayor Romulo Festin but according to Radyo Inquirer, the president’s former assistant Senator-elect Bong Go said that no such meeting was scheduled.

As the Philippines celebrated its Independence Day on Wednesday, Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reported how a Chinese vessel hit a Philippine fishing boat anchored near the Recto Bank (aka Reed Bank) in Palawan and abandoned 22 Filipino crew members as the ship sank on June 9, Sunday.

They were only rescued hours later with the help of crew members of a Vietnamese ship where they were fed, given water, and allowed to rest, ABS-CBN News reported.

Beijing has confirmed that the vessel that hit the fishing boat was indeed a Chinese trawler named Yuemaobinyu 42212 but denies that it was a hit-and-run. It said in a statement shared on social media on Saturday that the Chinese vessel was allegedly “besieged” by seven to eight Filipino fishing boats and was trying to evacuate the area when it hit the boat.

“The Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats,” a statement from the Chinese Embassy in Manila says.

After speaking with some of the Filipinos involved, Mayor Festin denied that Philippine boats besieged the Chinese vessel, saying that there were not enough Filipino fishermen in the area to do so, GMA News reported.

The Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII), the largest organization of Filipino-Chinese businesses said in a press conference yesterday that it would provide aid for the repair of the damaged fishing boat but clarified that this was not an “admission of guilt,” The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

The military’s Western Command said that initial reports described the collision as accidental but Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Penetrante has said that it probably was not.

Insigne’s family said he won’t talk about the incident with the president for now because he is still dealing with trauma from what happened, according to Radyo Inquirer. The captain has also expressed disappointment over Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi allegedly telling him that the collision may have been unintentional as only the boat’s stern was hit, ABS-CBN News reported.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News on Friday, Insigne said that they were indeed hit and abandoned by the Chinese vessel.

“We were hit by the Chinese. After hitting us we thought they would help us but they ran away. We were anchored, resting. It was midnight. They were many lights around,” he said in Filipino.

He said he was sure the Chinese crewmen saw them sinking because they allegedly even turned on lights to check what happened.

“They turned around and went back to us. They turned many lights on. When they saw that we were sinking, they turned off the lights before leaving us,” Insigne said.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol met with the Philippine fishing boat’s cook Richard Blasa earlier today and said that he would report about it during a Cabinet cluster meeting this afternoon, GMA News reported.

Multiple government officials have spoken out against the incident, including Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo who called the Chinese crew members’ inaction “inhuman” and “barbaric.” The Foreign Affairs department has also filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.

However, Duterte has remained noticeably silent about the issue despite having appeared in public multiple times since the news came out.

Many have criticized him for this, especially because the president is perceived to have a pro-China stance. He has refused to uphold the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision that ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea.

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