By Philippine News Agency and Roy Mabasa
The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Friday night said the vessel involved in the boat sinking incident in the West Philippine Sea was indeed China-flagged but denied it was a case of “hit and run.”
The China Embassy, in a statement, identified the Chinese fishing boat as Yuemaobinyu 42212 from Guangdong Province, China. It initially berthed at the vicinity of Reed Bank.
“It was suddenly besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats. During the evacuation, 42212 failed to shun a Filipino fishing boat, and its steel cable on the lighting grid of larboard bumped into the Filipino pilothouse,” it said.
“The Filipino fishing boat tilted and its stern foundered. The Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats. Therefore, having confirmed the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued on board of other Filipino fishing boats, 42212 sailed away from the scene,” it added.
Citing results of their initial probe, the Embassy said “there is no such thing as hit-and-run.”
Meanwhile, it vowed to properly handle the issue with the Philippines “in a serious and responsible manner,” saying the Chinese side “attaches great importance to China-Philippines friendship and safety of life at sea.”
“The two sides are maintaining close communication through diplomatic channels,” it noted.
Recalling the night of the incident, Junel Insigne, the boat captain of F/B GEMVIR1 said, “Noong pagbangga, akala namin pagbalik niya tutulungan kami, biglang sumindi ‘yong ilaw na marami, dahil nakita kaming lubog na… Ayon, pinatay nila ulit ‘yong ilaw palayo na ulit sa amin (When they hit us, we thought they were going to help us when they came back. Their lights suddenly flickered on, when they saw us sinking… then they turned off their light and left),” he said.
Insigne said the Chinese should have helped them at least the moment they saw them sinking.
“Umikot lang muna sila, binalikan kami bago sumindi ‘yong ilaw, ‘yong maraming ilaw, noong makita lubog na, pinatay ‘yong ilaw bago umatras papalayo (They circled first then went back to the scene, when they saw that our boat already sank, they turned off their lights before they left),” he narrated.
Another Filipino fisherman reportedly paddled a boat for two hours to ask help from the nearest boat which turned out to be manned by Vietnamese fishermen.
“Kung wala ‘yong Vietnam baka mamatay na kami doon lahat, mga tatlong oras rin (If the Vietnamese weren’t there we would have drowned to death, we were floating for around three hours),” he added.
Test of patience, respect
Senator Panfilo Lacson said China is testing the “patience” of the Philippines with its responses on the supposed ramming of the Filipino fishing vessel in the Recto (Reed) Bank.
“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,” Lacson posted on Twitter.
“If I know PRRD (President Rodrigo Duterte), he values friendship but he loves his country more. The boat ramming incident is a test of both patience and respect,” he added.
“Their version of events is as fake as their territorial claims,” Senator Francis Pangilinan tweeted.
Senator Risa Hontiveros branded as ‘’ridiculous’’ the claim that the Chinese vessel “accidentally” hit and sank our ship because it was “suddenly besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats.’’
For Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, “It is thus highly likely that a Chinese maritime militia vessel rammed the Filipino fishing vessel F/B Gimver 1.” Carpio warned that the incident could be a start of Chinese aggression to keep Philippine vessels away from waters China wants claimed.
“This may signal the start of a new ‘gray zone’ offensive by China to drive away Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea, in the same way that China is driving away Vietnamese fishing vessels in the Paracels,” the SC magistrate stated.
“The Filipino people must take a strong stand against this latest aggressive act of China,” he stressed.
He also urged Filipinos to “demand from China compensation for the owner of F/B Gimver 1, and punishment for the captain and crew of the Chinese vessel that rammed in hit-and-run fashion F/B Gimver 1.”
“The Filipino people must send a strong signal to China that any new ‘grey zone” offensive of ramming Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea will mean a break of diplomatic ties with China,” he said.
Carpio pointed out the ramming incident “prevented the crew of F/B Gimver 1 from exercising their sovereign right to fish in the exclusive fishing ground of Filipino fishermen.”
The magistrate said the Chinese ship is part of the Chinese maritime militia under the supervision of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). (With reports from Jeffrey Damicog, Mario Casayuran, and Vanne Elaine Terrazola)