MANILA, Philippines — As groans of disbelief greeted China’s version of the Recto Bank incident, the Philippines has formally called the attention of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) to the Filipino fishermen’s being “callously abandoned to the elements on the rough seas” by Chinese mariners who rammed and sank their vessel last week.
Deputy permanent representative to the IMO Senen Mangalile reported the incident at the 101st session of the IMO maritime safety committee in London on Friday.
Mangalile called on UN member-states to put a premium on protecting life at sea in cases of maritime distress, noting the Filipinos’ ordeal after a Chinese vessel rammed and sank their boat at midnight of June 9.
Vietnamese fishermen rescued the Filipinos hours after the incident, which the Chinese claimed was unintentional.
“It is the obligation of every responsible member-state of the UN and the IMO to implement these conventions and related codes concerning maritime safety and security, rather than just paying lip service to them,” said Mangalile.
“It is also our moral obligation to save a human life whenever and wherever we can do so,” he added.
On Friday, the Chinese embassy in Manila confirmed that the vessel that sank the Filipino fishing boat was indeed Chinese, but that its crew had to abandon efforts to rescue the beleaguered fishermen after getting “besieged” by seven to eight other Filipino boats.
The statement came almost a week after the sinking of F/B Gemver by a larger vessel described as Chinese by the 22 crewmembers of the ill-fated Filipino boat.
“Yuemaobinyu 42212, a Chinese fishing boat from Guangdong Province, China, engaged in a light purse seine operation, was berthed at the vicinity of Liyue Tan (Reed Bank),” the embassy said, referring to Recto Bank.
“It was suddenly besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats. During evacuation, 42212 failed to shun a Filipino fishing boat, and its steel cable on the lighting grid of the larboard bumped into the Filipino pilothouse. The fishing boat tilted and its stern foundered,” the embassy statement added.
The embassy also debunked the fishermen’s claim that they were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen, saying other Filipino boats came to rescue them.
The captain of the Chinese vessel, according to the embassy, tried to pluck the fishermen out of the water but had to turn away after the Filipino boats made threatening moves.
“Therefore, having confirmed the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued and on board the Filipino fishing boats, 42212 sailed away from the scene,” read the statement.
“The above shows that there is no such thing as ‘hit and run,’” it added.
After initially downplaying the Filipino fishermen’s accounts, DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he now believes the sinking of the fishing boat was intentional as pointed out by Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad.
The Navy chief had emphasized that what happened in Recto Bank at midnight last Sunday was “not a normal incident” as claimed by the Chinese.
“I believe in our Armed Forces; in its intelligence and integrity not to mention courage,” Locsin wrote on Twitter. “So ramming it is.”
He had earlier maintained that his department had done all it could with his decision to file a diplomatic protest.
“We say what we want because it is a free world for us too; but in our case we speak from the law of the sea. But still everyone’s free,” he said.
The Navy said that while it is still verifying the authenticity of the Chinese embassy’s statement, it is now clear that a Chinese vessel was involved and that it violated international law when it rammed the fishing boat and left the scene without rescuing the fishermen.
Capt. Jonathan Zata, Navy spokesman, also belied the Chinese embassy’s claim that other Filipino boats rescued the fishermen and not the Vietnamese.
“It’s the Vietnamese fishing vessel that rescued our fishermen and not a Filipino fishing boat. There was no Filipino vessel in the area at the incident. Had there been any Filipino vessel around, the incident could have been immediately reported to the Navy and we could have responded immediately. But there’s none,” he said.
“It’s only through the Vietnamese fishing vessel that the rescued fishermen were able relay the incident to their sister ship,” Zata added.
Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo said the PCG would coordinate with the Vietnamese Coast Guard so it could thank and get a statement from the Vietnamese fishermen who rescued the Filipinos. “Maybe they were able to observe something at the area, if they noticed a vessel passing by,” Balilo said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros branded as “preposterous” the Chinese embassy’s claim that the Chinese vessel was “besieged” by Filipino fishing boats, and urged the Duterte administration to downgrade the country’s diplomatic relations with Beijing.
“It (Chinese claim) is a flimsy attempt at a cover-up to shield the involved Chinese crew from any accountability and shift the blame and responsibility to our distressed fisherfolk,” Hontiveros said.
“The claim that the Chinese vessel ‘accidentally’ hit and sank our ship because it was ‘suddenly besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats’ is ridiculous. Equally incredible is the excuse that the Chinese vessel failed to rescue our fishermen because it was ‘afraid of being besieged’ by our boats,” she said.
It’s the Chinese, she said, who have long been encroaching on Philippine waters and harassing Filipino fishermen.
Chinese ships have also been ramming, firing water cannons at and sinking Vietnamese vessels in the Paracels for several years now, she pointed out.
“Second, if there were seven to eight Filipino fishing boats in the area, why were our fishermen rescued by the Vietnamese? Why would our fishermen wait for several hours, exposed to the mercy of the elements, before they were saved from danger?” she added.
“Despite the efforts of our foreign affairs officials, it appears that the Chinese government is sweeping this under the carpet,” she said.
“I call on President Duterte to immediately downgrade our ties with China, as expressed through the immediate recall of our diplomats stationed in the country. The downgrading of ties will upgrade our position in finding justice for our aggrieved fisherfolk and in defending our sovereignty,” she said.
“Lastly, I call on President Duterte to break his silence on this serious issue. While it is correct that he can speak through his alter egos, nothing is more reassuring to the public than to see and hear their own President, the supposed architect of the country’s foreign policy, telling them that he is on top of the situation,” she said.
Sen. Richard Gordon also scoffed at the Chinese version of the Recto Bank incident, calling it “baloney.” He told radio dwIZ it’s the Chinese who have massive presence in the South China Sea. He said it’s very likely that many of the Chinese supposed fishing vessels in the region are manned by People’s Liberation Army regulars.
For Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the incident was a “test of both respect and patience.”
“Respect on the part of the Chinese government toward a supposed ally, the Philippines. And patience, on the part of Filipinos,” Lacson said in an interview over dwIZ. He also said he understands President Duterte’s silence on the issue, as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is already dealing with the matter.
He chided the Chinese for coming out with a narrative that’s insulting to Filipinos.
“If they’re not ready to present the whole truth, they should at least come up with a fine script – one that’s believable, not insulting, and won’t make Filipinos look stupid,” he said.
Lacson said the Chinese leadership should at least repay with respect the Duterte administration’s sincere friendship.
In his official Twitter account, Lacson posted: “The clock is ticking on our patience. China should respect a country that has been pulling back to give a ‘friend’ all the benefit of the doubt. If I know PRRD, he values friendship but he loves his country more. The boat ramming incident is a test of both patience and respect.” – With Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jaime Laude
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