By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Joel Villanueva on Tuesday appealed to the government not to dismiss the narratives of the distressed Filipino fishermen in taking its position on the Recto (Reed) Bank incident last June 9.
“How many more fishermen should be put in harm’s way before we get our acts together? Tuwing pumapalaot sila, tinataya nila ang kanilang kaligtasan upang magkaroon ng disenteng hanapbuhay (Every time they set sail, they risk their safety just to have a decent means of livelihood),” Villanueva said in a statement.
“Huwag po sana natin maliitin ang kanilang masalimuot na karanasan (Let us please not forget their traumatic experience),” he added.
Villanueva made the appeal as he maintained that the Filipino fishermen were the victims in the incident since they were “left for dead” by the crew of the Chinese vessel which rammed and sank their boat midnight of June 9.
The Filipinos were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel at sea hours later.
“That crew (Chinese), which we believe should not be in our waters in the first place, must be brought here in the Philippines to be held to account and make amends,” he said, stressing anew that Recto Bank is within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
He also lamented what he believed was” confusion” among members of the Executive Branch, following their statements downplaying the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat.
“At first, some Cabinet members described the case as a collision. A few hours after, the official line became allision. Then, later on, it was called a ‘maritime incident.’ One thing is clear to our minds. It seems that in this particular case, even the government is in a state of confusion,” Villanueva said.
“Lest we quibble with words and terms to muddle the issue further, we appeal for clarity among our officials,” he added.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi on Sunday questioned the account of the Filipino fishermen and said the Chinese vessel may have not intended to hit them.
“Kasi sasabihin natin kung talagang babanggain, eh bakit kung, sa kwan ba, sabihin natin napakabulok naman ng babangga, daplis lang. Siyempre kung mean to kill, siyempre diretso mo na,” said Cusi, who is also MIMAROPA’s Cabinet Officer Responsible for Development and Security.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol also believed that it would be premature to rule as early as now whether the ramming was accidental or intentional.
The Cabinet members’ sentiments echoed that of their chief, President Duterte, who broke his silence on the issue during his speech at the 121st-anniversary program of the Philippine Navy in Cavite on Monday night.
Duterte dismissed the incident as a “little maritime accident” which he believed should not be a cause of conflict with China.
He said he would wait for the investigation and give China the chance to be heard.
In a television interview, Junel Isigne, the captain of the F/B Gem-Ver 1 expressed dismay over the officials’ remarks, saying they expect the government to hold the Chinese crewmen accountable for abandoning them.
Earlier, China admitted the involvement of its locals’ fishing boat but denied that it deliberately struck the Filipino vessel. It also claimed they the crew “tried” to help the Filipin fishermen, but opted to sail away for fear of being “besieged” by other Filipino boats, which it claimed were also in the scene.