By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
Perhaps nothing is more despicable than leaving to the mercy of the elements in the high seas the 22 Filipino crewmen whose fishing boat was hit by a Chinese trawler on June 9 in the West Philippine Sea.
“Whether it’s a form of bullying or not, it’s outrageous, it’s barbaric, it’s uncivilized,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo has said. And he’s absolutely right. Denying urgent help to those in extreme distress is simply inhumane.
“This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has pointed out. “We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew.”
And many find deplorable the Chinese Embassy statement that “the Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats.” The embassy claimed “the crew of the Chinese boat, Yuemaobinyu 42212, accidentally bumped into the Filipino vessel, FB Gem-Ver 1, as it tried to maneuver.”
Such claim “doesn’t make sense; it is an insult to the intelligence of Filipinos,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said. “They insult us like they’re telling us that we are stupid people.”
China’s claim of a swarm of fishing vessels threatening their boat is contradicted by satellite images of the area on the night of June 9. “They were spread over the wide area of Reed Bank; the closest two lights are about three to five nautical miles apart. What 7-8 vessels swarm of night-marauding Filipino fishing boats is China talking about?” Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said.
More damning statements came from the Filipino fishing boat captain, Junel Insigne, who said in a TV interview that the Chinese vessel deliberately rammed their boat and left. “Pagbangga sa amin, binalikan kami at inilawan. Nung nakita kaming lubog na, tinakbuhan po kami (After they hit us, they went back and shone their light. When they saw that we already sank, they left),” he narrated.
It would not be surprising if his account of what transpired infuriated many Filipinos. Public anger was obvious during the latest episode of DZMM’s teleradyo program, Magpayo Nga Kayo (9:30 – 10:30 am, Saturdays), which I co-host with veteran broadcaster May Valle Ceniza. Many who commented on the ramming of the fishing boat, one of our program’s hot topics that day, felt our national dignity was at stake.
And some expressed worry over President Duterte’s silence on the raging controversy. But it’s good Sen. Lacson gave assurances that the heart of the president is in the right place, amid his pursuit of friendly relations with China.
“He values friendship but I’m sure he loves his country more,” Sen. Lacson said as he explained that the controversy is a very sensitive issue for the president who, he surmised, might be gathering more information on the matter.
But for those wanting to see that those behind the ramming of the fishing boat are made accountable for their actions and that the aggrieved Filipino fishermen get justice, there are a variety of proposals and concrete actions that could be done.
Among them is that of Vice President Leni Robredo who has called on government to “demand from the Chinese government to find those responsible and recognize Philippine jurisdiction, so they can face trial before our courts.” She warned that failure to act on Chinese encroachment in our waters would “result in less and less respect for our laws and sovereignty from China — and to the direct harm of our people. As our own history has repeatedly taught us, abuse, left unchallenged, will only encourage further abuse, giving rise to impunity.”
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said we must take a strong stand against the aggressive act and demand compensation from China. He said the ramming of the fishing boat is an escalation of aggressive acts. “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,” he said.
And, on a more positive note, there’s also the offer of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. to help the 22 fishermen “in the immediate rehabilitation of their damaged fishing boat so they can resume their livelihood.”
This raging controversy would undoubtedly deepen further the animosity and distrust of most Filipinos towards the Chinese government, as shown in many surveys, despite all the positive developments that have transpired between the Philippines and China since 2016. It is now up to China to look beyond the seething anger and do the right thing if it wants to show the world it can be a true friend.
Tags: Atty. Joey D. Lina