By Genalyn Kabiling and Argyll Cyrus Geducos
The Philippines has threatened to cut diplomatic ties with China if the sinking of a Filipino vessel by a Chinese boat in the West Philippine Sea is proven to be an intentional aggressive act, Malacañang warned on Thursday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the country has already filed a diplomatic protest over the ship collision as the government moves to find out what really happened in the incident.
“We want to find out first. If it was intentional, ibang usapan na ‘yun [it will be another matter]…If it is intentional, it is an act of aggression,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
In a tweet Thursday noon, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said: “I fired off a diplomatic protest yesterday (Wednesday, June 12). The Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO (International Maritime Organization) is it.”
“What’s the next step? We will cut off diplomatic relations if there are aggressive acts. First, file a diplomatic protest.
If you are not content with their explanation, we find out that it was intentional, that will be another matter,” Panelo said.
Panelo said the President was “outraged” by the incident involving the Chinese ship, adding it was “likely” he would take steps similar to those taken in addressing the garbage issue with Canada.
Manila had earlier sought to diminish diplomatic ties with Canada by recalling the country’s ambassador and banning official trips of government officials to the North American country until the garbage was retrieved. The garbage was eventually shipped back to Canada last month.
“Given the steps undertaken by the President on the Canada trash issue, that’s more likely…baka severe pa, hindi natin alam. Let’s leave it to the President [it might even be severe. We don’t know. Let’s leave it to the President],” he said, when asked if the President will diminish or sever ties with China over the maritime incident.
Panelo, however, clarified that the government would take “calibrated” responses to the situation. He said they would wait for China’s response to the diplomatic protest over the ship collision.
A Chinese vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank last June 9, leaving the fishermen stranded at sea.
A Vietnamese fishing ship later rescued all the local fishermen.
According to Panelo, the government was “condemning” the action of the Chinese vessel that rammed a Filipino boat and abandoned the distressed fishermen at sea. He said the Palace has asked China to probe the incident and impose sanctions against the Chinese crewmen who left the fishermen behind.
“We call the Chinese government to probe the incident and to impose punitive action against those at fault,” he added.
“Definitely, we will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, to be bullied, to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions from any source,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denounced the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for immediately leaving the scene, abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen to the mercy of the elements.
Panelo said the Palace is in parity with Lorenzana regarding the collision.
“The act of abandonment, by those sailing the Chinese fishing vessel of twenty-two ( 22 ) Filipino fishermen aboard their anchored and stationary watercraft hit by them, is uncivilized as it is outrageous,” he said.
According to Panelo, basic human decency would have prompted the Chinese that saving the Filipinos was the priority.
“Regardless of the nature of the collision, whether it was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the downed Philippine vessel,” he said.
“The safety of the crew of the damaged Filipino vessel should have been the uppermost thought and helping them should have been the natural reaction of the crew of the other vessel,” he added.
Panelo also said that the present territorial conflict between the two countries is not, and cannot, be an impediment for the offending vessel to lend a hand to the distressed crew.
“The Captain and the crew of the Chinese vessel should not have left the injured party without any assistance or succor. Such act of desertion is inhuman as it is barbaric,” he said.
“It is a crystal-clear violation of maritime protocols as well as an infringement of internationally accepted practice of assisting a vessel in distress,” he added.
Meanwhile, Locsin said the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat may be a case of an “allision” instead of a collision.
“Wrong. It’s presumably an ‘allision’ or bumping of two vessels one of which was stationary. Ramming is another thing altogether requiring proof of intentionality. So far as I know none of us is a mind reader not least because some of us have no mind with which to read another,” Locsin tweeted on Thursday. (With reports from Roy Mabasa)