The president has spoken.
After almost a week of silence on the issue, Rodrigo Duterte yesterday finally addressed the sinking of the Philippine fishing boat that was hit by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea earlier this month. But his statement was not exactly the strong defense many Filipinos wanted.
The president was quite calm as he talked about the incident in a speech in Cavite City, in Cavite province yesterday. While addressing the Philippine Navy, which was celebrating its 121st anniversary in the Naval Base Heracleo Alano, Duterte said the incident was “just a collision of ships,” and not something to wage war over.
“That is a maritime incident. Do not believe those stupid politicians who want the Navy to intervene. You do not need gray ships there. It’s just a collision of ships. Do not make it worse,” he said in Filipino and English.
“They’re just two boats,” he said in another part of his speech.
On June 9, Sunday, a Chinese trawler hit a Philippine fishing boat that was anchored near the Recto Bank (aka Reed Bank) in Palawan. The crew members of the Chinese vessel left 22 Filipino fishermen to fend for themselves in the water as their boat sank. The Filipinos were reportedly stranded for hours until they were saved by a Vietnamese boat.
Philippine government officials criticized the Chinese for their inaction, with Duterte’s very own spokesman Salvador Panelo calling the incident “inhuman” and “barbaric.” The Department of Foreign Affairs also immediately filed a diplomatic protest over what happened.
Many had been waiting for the president to weigh in on the issue, especially because Duterte has been criticized for having a pro-China stance. He has infamously refused to uphold the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision that ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea.
In his speech yesterday, Duterte boasted that his administration has strengthened the country’s defenses and will continue to improve it. “I will make sure that when I’m done being president, we can challenge anyone into war. We can challenge everybody,” he said.
But in the same breath, he also warned against confronting China over the recent sinking incident, saying that the Philippine is not ready for a nuclear war.
“We are not yet as ready and we can never be ready in [a] nuclear war,” he said, before painting a bleak picture of what could happen if the Philippines were to be attacked with nukes.
“Earth will dry up and we will all be destroyed and that is the end of everything.”
Duterte also described the collision as a “maritime incident” and said that it is vital to hear China’s side on the matter.
In a statement right after the issue was made public, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called it an “ordinary maritime traffic accident.”
The Chinese Embassy in Manila later confirmed in a statement that the trawler was indeed from China but refused to call the incident a hit and run. It said 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 crew members allegedly tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen but were afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats.
However, satellite data shows that this was not possible because the other fishing vessels in the area were too far away, Rappler reported.
While he does not want to take action against China for the incident, Duterte ended his speech yesterday by saying that he will not compromise in his fight against terrorism, illegal drugs, and communism.
“I need to kill you all,” he said.