Manila Times/ Manila
Malacanang yesterday pushed back against Beijing’s claims that Manila was “politicising” a collision between Filipino and Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters, saying the issue at hand was irresponsibility of the Chinese boat’s crew.
Philippine officials have condemned the unidentified Chinese vessel for abandoning 22 Filipino fishermen after their boat sank. China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the collision was “an ordinary maritime accident” and added that it was irresponsible of the Philippines to “politicise the incident without verification.”
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo, however, told a radio station that “we are not politicising that incident. What we’re focusing is on the act of abandoning, not the collision itself … but the act of abandoning (that) is in violation of Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas)….”
The Philippine Navy yesterday also insisted that the F/B Gemvir 1 was deliberately “rammed.”
“This is not a normal maritime incident because the (Filipino) ship was not moving,” Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad told reporters.
“We don’t ram ships that are not moving and that are anchored,” he added.
Panelo, who a day earlier said that Manila could cut ties with Beijing over the incident, also said that there would be a “reassessment” of bilateral relations even as he downplayed President Rodrigo Duterte’s continued silence.
The president has come under fire for failing to mention the sinking despite having spoken at three public events this week.
Panelo said Duterte — known for free-wheeling speeches peppered with obscenities and insults against his critics and opponents — was “a very cautious man” who “makes calibrated responses.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr yesterday also defended Duterte from criticism that he was deliberately trying to avoid antagonising China.
“Hey, that’s my job … (and) I’ve fired a diplomatic protest on available evidence. It is our job to stick our necks out first … what are we here for?” Locsin tweeted.
One of Duterte’ critics, detained Sen. Leila de Lima issued a statement criticising Locsin for defending China by “contradicting claims of intentionality” pushed by Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“President Duterte himself met this issue with deafening silence in the face of Chinese aggression and misconduct. These are not reactions that we need and deserve from president and top diplomat,” she added.
“This sends an unfortunate message to the world that we tolerate injustice from China against our own people. A clear injustice has been done and the Chinese fishermen committed a crime against our own countrymen.”
While Beijing has promised to investigate the culpability of the Chinese vessel’s crew, Panelo also said that Beijing should act on the reported poaching of giant clams in the disputed West Philippine (South China) Sea.
“I think the Chinese government would be protecting its own citizens but it cannot be protecting criminals. If they are committing illegal acts, then it’s their duty to punish, prosecute them and stop their illegal actions,” he said.
Duterte, who in wooing China’s has set aside an international arbitral ruling rejecting the regional power’s territorial claims, earlier this year threatened “suicide attacks” following reports that Chinese vessels had surrounded Philippine-held Pagasa Island. Also yesterday, fisherfolk group Pamalakaya urged the government to pursue the issue and assert the Philippines’ territorial claims.
“As long as the Chinese military and militias are there and build facilities in the West Philippine Sea, tensions like this will continue,” Pamalakaya President Fernando Hicap said.
While Locsin has rejected calls for Manila to seek international support, Hicap added that the incident had highlighted the need to strengthen co-operation among other South China Sea claimants to prevent continued harassment by Chinese vessels.
This was echoed by the Commission of Human Rights, which said “asserting our sovereignty and the right of our fishermen to rightfully gain economically from the resources found off the coast of Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, a country’s exclusive economic zone, protects our people’s right to self-determination.”
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