Back from hit-and-run: ‘It’s sad; the Chinese are also fishermen’
Insisting that a Chinese vessel was the culprit behind the June 9 sinking of a Philippine fishing boat at Recto Bank in the South China Sea, the 22 rescued fishermen were reunited with their families in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, on Friday.
The captain of the ill-fated FB Gemver (not Gem-Vir 1, as earlier reported), Jonnel Insigne, told reporters he was sure the crew of the Chinese vessel saw his fishing boat before the collision.
Insigne said the Chinese vessel turned its lights on seconds before it rammed the 14.38-ton Gemver and fled the scene with its lights off after his boat began to sink with all its catch and equipment.
The Chinese vessel hit the rear of the Gemver while anchored on Sunday night at Recto Bank, a rich fishing ground known internationally as Reed Bank, in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
“We were fortunate the sea was calm. We had to swim, others had tube lifesavers. It’s sad; the Chinese are also fishermen. It’s discouraging but we have to go back to work,” Insigne, 43, told reporters.
Before joining their families at the Port of Caminawit in San Jose, the fishermen, all from the town, recounted their ordeal to Philippine Navy investigators and underwent physical examination aboard the Navy patrol vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz around 4:30 p.m.
After the Gemver sank, the fishermen struggled for hours to stay afloat in the dark until a Vietnamese fishing vessel rescued them.
The fishermen stayed on the vessel until Wednesday, when they were transferred to another Philippine fishing boat, FB Thanksgiving. The Alcaraz later picked them up from that boat.
A day after filing a diplomatic protest against China over the incident, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. ruled out getting international support for its move and said the country could handle its own problems alone.
“Fuck the international community. It can be bought. This is our fight and in the end ours alone,” Locsin tweeted on Thursday.
“It is too dangerous for us to call in the international community. We will owe them—never a good idea—and fairy-like admit we cannot handle our own problems alone and without even trying first? No way Jose,” he said in another tweet.
“We’ve never relied on the international community but almost exclusively on our balls and brains,” he said in a reply to a tweet.
Locsin on Friday said the investigation into the incident was “ongoing,” but intelligence reports were “pretty confident” the Philippine fishing boat was stationary when it was hit.
Also on Friday, Malacañang said that contrary to the claim of China, the Philippines did not “irresponsibly politicize” the sinking of the fishing boat in the disputed sea by filing a diplomatic protest.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that Manila simply protested against the Chinese crew’s abandonment of the Filipino fishermen, calling it a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“First, we are not politicizing that incident. What we are focusing on is the act of abandoning; not the collision itself, because collisions happen in the high seas. But the act of abandoning is in violation of the Unclos,” Panelo said in a TV interview.
Panelo was reacting to the remarks of Geng Shuang, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, who accused the Philippines of “politicizing” what he called an “ordinary maritime accident.”
The Palace has called for an investigation into the incident and warned that the Philippines might sever diplomatic ties with China if the sinking of the Philippine fishing boat could be proved to have been intentional.
“[T]he government will have a calibrated response to this incident. Depending on the response [from China], then we will make our reply,” Panelo said on Friday.
He also condemned the act of abandoning the Filipino fishermen as “outrageous,” “uncivilized” and “barbaric.”
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua on Thursday sent Panelo a text message giving assurance that China was “thoroughly and seriously investigating” the incident and promising to “educate and punish” the Chinese fishermen for their “irresponsible behavior” if proven at fault.
Panelo said it was an international practice for seafarers to lend a helping hand to people in distress in the high seas.
“You don’t even have [to have] an international law provision on that. It’s a human act of lending [a] hand to somebody in distress,” he said.
After the incident, Malacañang said the country might reassess its strategy in handling its dispute with China in the South China Sea.
The Philippines and China thresh out issues through a bilateral consultation mechanism.
“I think there should be a reassessment of the mechanism—what issues are being threshed out and how to go about it, how to prevent similar incidents from happening,” Panelo said.
He also said the Philippine Coast Guard might increase its presence in the West Philippine Sea to protect Filipino fishermen in the area.
“I think we should be having more coast guards there. We can always find resources if we want to,” Panelo added.
Detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima on Friday denounced President Duterte’s “deafening silence” on the incident, saying it sent the message that the Philippines tolerated an injustice committed by China.
She also criticized Locsin for “jumping to the defense” of China by contradicting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement that a Chinese vessel intentionally hit the Philippine boat.
“These are not the reactions that we need and deserve from our President and top diplomat,” De Lima said. “This sends an unfortunate message to the world that we tolerate injustice from China against our own people.”
But Panelo defended Mr. Duterte and said the President was a “cautious man who makes calibrated responses.”
“[W]e don’t even know exactly what happened there. It’s still under investigation … We don’t even know whether that’s [a] Chinese vessel or not,” he said. “The President is a very cautious man. If you notice, he makes calibrated responses.”
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Friday added to the voices of condemnation against China.
“We believe that asserting our sovereignty and the right of our fishers to rightfully gain economically from the resources found off the coast of Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea … protects our people’s right to self-determination,” said Jacqueline de Guia, spokesperson for the CHR.
“Our own government [needs] appropriate robust measures that will protect the rights of all Filipinos—be it on land or at sea,” De Guia added.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said it would give the rescued fishermen a sack of rice.
Elizer Salilig, director of the Mimaropa BFAR office, said the agency would also donate a 15-passenger boat worth P125,000 to the group in the second week of July. —WITH REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, DJ YAP, PARTRICIA DENISE M. CHIU, MELVIN GASCON, MARLON RAMOS, REDEMPTO ANDA AND MARICAR CINCO
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