By Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Genalyn Kabiling, and Hannah Torregoza
President Duterte called for a special meeting of the Cabinet clusters today to discuss the sinking of a Philippine shipping vessel at the Recto Bank where 22 Filipino fishermen were abandoned at sea after their anchored boat was reportedly hit by a Chinese vessel last week.
The meeting was supposed to take place after the Philippine Navy’s 121st anniversary this afternoon, but Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Sunday said that it has been cancelled.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Sunday that the meeting of Cabinet secretaries on the Recto Bank incident will push through without President Duterte as the Chief Executive has a packed schedule on Monday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier confirmed that President Duterte called for a special meeting to talk about the accident. Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi also reportedly confirmed that there was going to be a special meeting.
Nograles clarified that there would be a meeting but only between Cabinet clusters since President Duterte would not be able to attend due to his busy schedule.
“Alam naman natin na ang pwede lang magpatawag ng meeting ay si President (We all know that only the President can call for a Cabinet meeting),” Nograles explained.
“Mayroon kaming pina-schedule na meeting ngayon, cluster meeting. If that meeting will push through tomorrow, it will be two clusters — yung cluster ni Secretary Lorenzana, at cluster ni [Finance] Secretary [Sonny] Dominguez (We set a cluster meeting. If it will push through, it will be between the clusters of Secretary Lorenzana and Secretary Dominguez),” he said.
“I don’t think makaka-attend siya kasi puno yung schedule niya tomorrow. Hindi siya pwede sa proposed time ng cluster kung saan libre ang mga Cabinet secretaries (I don’t think he can attend because he is busy during the time where the Cabinet secretaries are free),” he added.
According to Nograles, they will relay to the President whatever they will be discussing during the meeting which will also be attended by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“Ang mangyayari pagkatapos ng meeting ay siguro mas maliliwanagan na kami, Cabinet secretaries will get a clearer picture of what happened or what our next steps will be. Kung ano ang mapag-usapan sa meeting, ibibigay namin kay Pangulong Duterte. He will process. Ultimately siya ang magdedesisyon. Ginagawa lang namin ito para we are on the same page (US Cabinet secretaries will get a clearer picture about what happened after the meeting and we will know what steps to take. Whatever we discuss, we will relay to President Duterte),” he said.
“I’m sure the President right now is gathering as much needed information as he can. Alam naman natin na si Pangulo (We all know that the President) has access to classified information… Ultimately, si Pangulo ang magdedesisyon kung ano ang magiging polisiya natin (Ultimately, it is the President who will decide what our policy will be),” he added.
Benefit of the doubt
Nograles appealed to the public not to prejudge China by saying that they are not holding up their end of the bargain regarding the South China Sea. He said that everything about the country’s dealings with China is going through the proper channels, including the issue on the disputed waters.
“Kaya nga po mayroon tayong mga tinatawag na diplomatic channels. On the side of the Philippines, meron tayong Department of Foreign Affairs, sa side naman ng China mayroon silang Foreign Ministry. They are the ones supposed to discuss these things. Dito natin dinadaan lahat ng ito (We have what we call diplomatic channels. The Philippines has the DFA while China has its Foreign Ministry. They are the ones supposed to discuss these things and we talk about everything in this channel),” he said.
“Ang hinihingi lang po natin sa publiko (What we’re asking the public is), do not fan the flames. That’s an internationally recognized process,” he added, expressing confidence that DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and his Chinese counterpart will be able to talk and come up with steps to sort things out.
Nograles said that only the DFA can tell if China is not doing what it promised regarding the West Philippine Sea.
“‘Wag tayong magmadaling maghusga rin… Hayaan na lang po natin siguro ang DFA na magsabi sa taumbayan kung nandoon na tayo sa puntong yun na hindi na nagko-cooperate ang kabilang panig. Idaan muna natin sa proseso (Let us not judge too quickly, as well. Let’s allow the DFA to tell the people that the other party is not cooperating. Let’s go through the process first),” he said.
President Duterte has been silent about the incident since news broke out on June 12. Malacañang explained that Duterte was being cautious since nothing was certain at the time the incident was reported.
“The President is a very cautious man. If you noticed, he makes calibrated responses,” Panelo said.
“Depende kasi ‘yan kung anong magiging response ng Chinese government sa ating diplomatic protest (It depends on the Chinese government’s response to our diplomatic protest),” he added.
The Chinese government has assured that it would seriously and thoroughly investigate the incident and vowed to punish the crew if confirmed that they were Chinese. However, after it was confirmed that the crew were Chinese, the Chinese Foreign Ministry maintained that what happened was an ordinary maritime accident.
The Embassy of China in Manila claimed the Chinese crew tried to rescue the fishermen but left after supposedly being besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats.
The Palace earlier warned that the country could cut ties with China if the ramming of the Filipino boat would be proven as an intentional aggressive act.
Increased border patrols
Panelo has pushed for increased border patrols by the Philippine Coast Guard while appealing to local fishermen to remain vigilant and report any untoward incident to authorities.
“We should be having more coast guards there,” Panelo said.
He noted that the country has vast coastlines but there were apparently only four Coast Guard boats patrolling the borders. “We can always find resources if we want to,” he said when asked if the government has enough resources to conduct naval patrols.
The border patrols could also curb any poaching of marine resources in the country’s territorial waters, according to Panelo. “Because the problem is if you have only a few Coast Guards when they are away, then something happens, when they get back nobody is there,” he said.
Panelo urged local fishermen to exercise vigilance while on fishing expedition.
“Maging maingat sila sa kanilang ginagawang pangingisda sa lugar na iyon at ipaalam kaagad sa atin kung anuman ang unusual na nakikita nila na maaring magkaroon ng kalakaran kung saan ang kanilang kaligtasan ay malalagay sa alanganin (They should be careful when fishing there and report any unusual activity that will put their lives at risk),” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday said the Philippine government should continue raising its territorial dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) with the United Nations (UN), noting that bilateral talks are clearly not an effective way to stop Beijing’s “bullying tactics.”
“We should continue exerting international pressure. Ibig sabihin, dalhin natin ito sa UN assembly, ihayag natin. Ito’y hindi lang isang banggaan. Sa akin, ito’y nagpapakita ng mindset ng China na apihin ang Pilipinas dahil sa ating claims sa (This means, raising it before the UN assembly, let’s raise this. This is not a simple collision incident. To me, this is a manifestation of China’s mindset to oppress the Philippines due to our claims in the) West Philippine Sea,” Drilon said.
“Sinasabi nila na amin ito, hindi kayo pwedeng mangisda dahil teritoryo namin ito (They are saying this is ours, you cannot conduct fishing activities here because this is our territory). It should be taken in that context,” he further said.
“Hindi lang isolated incident, sa akin ito’y nagiging pattern ng pang-aapi at pambu-bully nitong China (This is not just an isolated incident, to me this is already a pattern of China’s abuse and bullying),” he pointed out.
Besides, he said if China is a sincere friend and ally of the Philippines, it should have released the names of the crew, including the captain’s name, aboard the Chinese vessel that rammed the Philippine’s fishing vessel.
“Because if that is a militia vessel, it means the government (of China) is directly involved. That’s a different story. That’s why, for me, one of the remedy here is for China to release the names of the boat captain. They should include in their explanation the names of the crew on board so we would know whether this is a commercial or militia,” Drilon stressed.
“An apology would be well taken,” he added.