MANILA, Philippines — The security and economic clusters of the Cabinet are expected to meet today to discuss the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat that was hit by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea as the administration faces mounting calls to adopt a tough stance on the issue.
President Duterte, who has not issued a statement on the incident, would not join the meeting because of a tight schedule, according to Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles.
“If the meeting (pushes) through, it will involve two clusters, the cluster of (Defense) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the cluster of (Finance) Secretary Sonny Dominguez. That’s the security, justice and peace cluster together with the economic development cluster,” Nograles told dzBB yesterday.
“Hindi maiiwasan na isa ito sa pag-uusapan (They can’t avoid discussing the issue),” Nograles added when asked if the incident near Recto Bank would be tackled during the meeting, which will also be attended by foreign affairs officials.
Nograles said Cabinet members are expected to get a “clearer picture” of the incident after the meeting. Officials are also expected to determine their next move and set protocol on who should talk about the issue.
“Whatever will be discussed, we will report it to President Duterte. He will process whatever will be agreed upon and we will transmit our recommendations to him. Ultimately, it is the President who will decide,” he said.
Reports yesterday quoted Lorenzana as saying that Duterte had called for a special Cabinet meeting on the Recto Bank incident.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea later said the meeting had been canceled.
Nograles said the confusion may have been caused by use of the words “Cabinet meeting.” He noted that only the President can call a Cabinet meeting. Citing protocol, Nograles said a meeting among department secretaries could not be called a Cabinet meeting if the President is not present.
“I don’t think he (Duterte) can attend (the meeting of the cabinet clusters). He will have a full schedule tomorrow (today),” he said.
Duterte is scheduled to attend the 121st anniversary of the Philippine Navy at Sangley Point in Cavite.
Medialdea clarified Duterte has not called for a special meeting.
“No, the President has not called for any special Cabinet meeting for that matter,” he said.
Should there have been any instruction for a special Cabinet meeting, Medialdea said it would only be the President who could call for such meeting.
Medialdea explained what has been expected to take place is a special cluster meeting of at least two to three Cabinet secretaries of the departments involved in tackling the issue.
Expected to attend the special cluster meeting are Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Secretary Lorenzana, as well as other Cabinet members supposedly with knowledge about the issue.
“But we are still awaiting report from the Philippine Navy. The Philippine Navy has yet to submit a report on the incident,” Medialdea added.
Reports also claimed Duterte would meet with the captain of the sunken Filipino boat in Malacañang today. Nograles, however, could not confirm this.
“I don’t have information about that. It’s not far-fetched. The President is known to have this hands-on policy… but personally, I don’t have access to such information,” he said.
Nograles also urged the public to remain calm and to allow the diplomatic process to work with regard to the sinking of the Filipino boat.
He said the issue should be addressed through diplomatic channels and handled by experts.
“Our appeal to the public is do not fan the flames, let the process work… the process has been there and it’s an internationally recognized process. We have protocols and procedures for that,” Nograles said.
“Rest assured our government is protecting the welfare and rights of our people. We won’t abandon that. But also have to observe diplomatic protocols,” he added.
Nograles expressed confidence that Philippine and Chinese officials would be able to discuss the matter and find ways to determine what really happened during the incident.
He said it is premature to judge China and assume that it would not observe protocols and agreements.
“Let’s go through the process and the only one who can say that the other side is not cooperative, is not respecting us or is no longer talking to us is the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs),” Nograles said.
Filipino vessel FB Gemver1 sank after being rammed by a Chinese ship near Recto Bank last June 9, according to security officials.
The Chinese fishing vessel identified as Yuemaobinyu 42212 reportedly abandoned the 22 Filipino crew members, who stayed afloat for several hours before they were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.
The defense department has called for a formal investigation on the matter. China has denied that the Chinese ship abandoned the Filipino fishermen. It also claimed that the Chinese vessel was “suddenly besieged” by seven or eight Filipino boats in the area.
Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said the Chinese have been intruding in our country’s exclusive economic zone.
“Secondly, the Chinese captain stated that his boat at approximately midnight was conducting fishing operations when it was besieged by about eight Filipino fishing boats. In pulling out of the area, the collision occurred. The captain decided not to rescue our 22 fishermen, as he was himself fearful of being besieged by our other fishing boats. Subsequently, our fishermen were rescued by a Vietnamese boat,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario said he had reliable information that the incident occurred around midnight of June 9. He said the rescue took place in the early morning, about four hours later.
“Our fishermen would sadly be left in the water for too many hours. If we had our other fishing boats in the area as declared by the Chinese captain, why did our poor fishermen have to wait hours to be rescued by our Vietnamese friends?” he asked.
Del Rosario said the information debunks the explanation made by the Chinese officials.
“A second explanation (from them) could only make things even worse,” he said.
His successor, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. saw nothing wrong with the explanation made by Chinese officials.
Locsin defended his reply “Noted. Next” in response to China’s version of the incident.
“Or ‘NOTED. NEXT.’ And we press on with our military’s version. I don’t trust civilians on security issues; our military can never be our enemy; civilians on the other hand well… A soldier is a civilian with a steel backbone. A civilian is just that—a civilian,” Locsin said in a tweet Saturday.
He said the government will move forward with the military’s version of the incident.
Vice President Leni Robredo said the incident should be a wakeup call for the Duterte administration to finally change its policies in dealing with China.
“It is still not too late. Now is the time for a shift in policy, from being passive to being more courageous in asserting our rights. From bowing our heads in subservience to holding our heads up high as a free and independent people,” Robredo said.
Robredo also expressed deep disappointment over the Chinese government’s refusal to acknowledge the culpability of those responsible for the sinking of the Philippine fishing vessel and abandoning its crew on June 9.
She said such an incident was bound to happen because of the present government’s apparent “kid glove” treatment of China.
“We have been warning and worrying about an incident like this since the administration adopted a less assertive policy in enforcing our rights, upheld by the favorable ruling from the UN Arbitral Tribunal, in the West Philippine Sea,” Robredo said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Chinese vessel’s sinking of a Filipino boat was part of China’s bullying tactics to assert its territorial claim in the West Philippine Sea.
Drilon continued to press the Duterte administration to elevate the issue before the United Nations and maritime organizations.
“This is not just a collision of two fishing vessels. To me, this revealed the alarming mindset of China, which is to bully the Philippines because of our claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Drilon told dzBB.
“It should be taken in that context. This is not just an isolated incident. I see a clear pattern of bullying and intimidation,” he said.
Drilon said the incident showed that China is keen on taking full sovereignty over the sea.
“What they’re is saying is that we’ll ram you to show that you’re forbidden here,” Drilon said. – With Edith Regalado, Helen Flores, Pia Lee-Brago, Paolo Romero, Romina Cabrera
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