June 13, 2019
A Filipino fishing boat sank last Sunday after being hit by a Chinese vessel near the disputed Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine (South China) Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced on Wednesday.
A Vietnamese fishing vessel rescued the Filipinos and brought them to Palawan, in coordination with the military’s Western Command. The Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz was also ordered to assist and monitor the area.
“We thank the captain and crew of the Vietnamese vessel for saving the lives of the 22 Filipino crew. However, we condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew,” Lorenzana said.
“This is not the expected action from responsible and friendly people,” he added.
The Defense chief called for a formal investigation and urged diplomatic steps “to prevent a repeat of this incident.”
The sinking underscored reports of continued harassment of Filipino fishers in disputed waters despite the Duterte administration’s pivot to Beijing.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Chinese vessels reportedly surrounded Philippine-held Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to warn of “suicide attacks” in a rare rebuke.
Duterte, who has set aside an international arbitral ruling rejecting China’s territorial claims, has said that he was powerless to go against the regional power.
Several senators condemned the maritime aggression and called for an investigation.
“We don’t treat our friends like that and we don’t expect to be treated that way either. Nothing short of a serious punitive action by the Chinese leadership against the Chinese Coast Guard crew responsible for the cowardly act against unarmed fishermen could assuage the majority of our countrymen’s strong apprehension about the sincerity of China toward us. It is on our President and our Foreign Affairs department to show where their true loyalty lies,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan agreed with Lacson.
“We denounce the inhumane and cruel act of abandoning 22 human lives in the high seas. We urge our government to reverse its policy of subservience and appeasement and file diplomatic protest. No self-respecting nation in the world will stay meek and docile in the face of such cruelty and aggression,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Francis Escudero urged the Philippine Navy, Coastguard and the Department of Foreign Affairs to investigate the incident “and to hold the captain and crew of the Chinese vessel liable and accountable.”
WITH BERNADETTE TAMAYO
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