MANILA: The Philippines on Friday rejected a Chinese Foreign Ministry claim that the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in the South China Sea was “a normal maritime accident.”
“We don’t ram ships that are anchored. You will see that on your radar, that the ship is not moving. Why ram it?” Philippines Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said. “I don’t know the reason behind it, but I do not consider that a normal maritime incident,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called the incident “an ordinary maritime traffic accident” and warned against “irresponsibly politicizing” the collision.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said a Chinese vessel is believed to have collided with the Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank around midnight on Sunday, June 9. The Filipino boat, FB Gimver 1, was reportedly anchored at the time.
Lorenzana said the Chinese vessel ignored the plight of 22 Filipino fishermen who were left “to the mercy of the elements” as their boat sank. The fishermen were rescued six hours later by a Vietnamese fishing vessel.
Philippine authorities condemned the action of the Chinese crew, saying what happened was like a “hit and run.”
Generoso Calonge, foreign affairs assistant secretary for maritime and ocean affairs, said the site of the sinking “is within (Philippines) exclusive economic zone, so it’s not a disputed territory.”
President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador Panelo said the diplomatic protest against China focused “on the act of abandoning (22 fishermen), not the collision itself.”
He showed reporters a text message sent to him by Chinese envoy Zhao Jianhua, who said that Beijing will punish those involved if the investigation shows they are Chinese nationals.
“The fishing boat issue is being thoroughly investigated. We share your concerns about (the) fishermen,” the message read. “If it is true that it was a Chinese fishing boat, they will be duly educated and punished for their irresponsible behavior.”
In light of the incident, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippine government should accept that China has “absolutely no respect for the rule of law,” and suggested that Manila “must now consider a multilateral approach” in dealing with China’s bullying.
“What is obvious is that Goliath, the neighborhood bully, will continue to rear its ugly head to intimidate our poor fishermen. We need to find a way to hold China’s leadership accountable,” he said.
“We must also now consider a multilateral approach. How much longer must our people wait for our government to seek a resolution from the UN General Assembly to promote the tribunal outcome which is now an integral part of international law?” he asked.
In 2016, a UN court ruled in favor of the Philippines when it concluded that China had no legal basis to its claim in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
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