Activists burn a mock Chinese flag with a map of the South China sea during a protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila on June 12, 2019, against the Asian superpower's growing sway in the Philippines and as tensions rise over Beijing's presence in the disputed South China sea.
AFP/Ted Aljibe
Opposition lawmakers hit China’s claims on ramming incident as ‘ridiculous’
Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - June 15, 2019 - 4:17pm

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition lawmakers branded as “ridiculous” Beijing’s claims on the ramming incident that involved a Chinese vessel and a Filipino fishing boat in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement Friday night, the Chinese Embassy in Manila confirmed it was a Chinese fishing boat that hit Gem-Vir 1 last June 9 but denied the incident that left 22 Filipino fishermen at sea was a case of “hit and run.”

China’s version of the incident also claimed that Chinese crewmen tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen thrown overboard but they were “afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats.”

Opposition lawmakers Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo Party-list) were unconvinced by the statement of the Chinese government, calling Beijing’s claims “ridiculous.”

“The claim that the Chinese vessel ‘accidentally’ hit and sank our ship because it was ‘suddenly besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats’ is ridiculous. Equally incredible is the excuse that the Chinese vessel failed to rescue our fishermen because it was ‘afraid of being besieged’ by our boats,” Hontiveros said.

Alejano, a former Marine officer, said it seems that China wants it to portray that its fishermen were the ones harassed.

“Do you think our fishermen will have the gall to bully Chinese fishermen in the Spratlys with People’s Liberation Army Navy, Coast Guard and its maritime militia around?” Alejano said.

He added: “Will our fishermen have the boldness to make overt offensive actions against Chinese fishermen knowing that in horizon lies three large reclaimed islands armed with radars and missiles defense system (surface to surface and surface to air) which has combat radius covering almost the South China Sea including whole of Palawan island?”

Both pointed out that it was Vietnamese fishermen, not Filipinos, who rescued the crewmen of the sunk Gem-Vir 1.

“It is becoming clear that we cannot rely on the Chinese government to conduct an objective investigation on this matter and hold accountable all those responsible for this awful incident,” Hontiveros said.

Pangilinan, for his part, said called China’s version of the incident as “fake as their territorial claims.”

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea is invalid. Despite the decision, Beijing continues to assert its historic rights and increase its maritime presence in the disputed waters.

‘Downgrade ties with China’

Hontiveros also said that President Rodrigo Duterte should immediately downgrade the country’s ties with China over the incident through the recall of diplomats.

“The downgrading of ties will upgrade our position in finding justice for our aggrieved fisherfolk and in defending our sovereignty,” she said.

Manila began expanding its relationship with Beijing and lessening its historical dependence on Washington when Duterte assumed office in 2016.

Hontiveros also called on the chief executive to break his silence on the issue.

“If the president can make public statements on the most mundane things, he can certainly do the same on this extremely important matter,” she said.

Duterte, known for going off-script in his public speeches, has yet to issue a statement on the sea ramming incident. His spokesperson Salvador Panelo explained Duterte’s silence by saying the president is a “very cautious man.”

“If you notice, he makes calibrated responses,” Panelo said.

In a tweet Saturday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that Duterte values friendship with China but he loves the Philippines more.

“The clock is ticking on our patience. China should respect a country that has been pulling back to give a ‘friend’ all the benefit of the doubt,” Lacson tweeted.

He added: “If I know PRRD, he values friendship but he loves his country more. The boat ramming incident is a test of both patience and respect.”

COLLISION FRANCIS PANGILINAN GARY ALEJANO RISA HONTIVEROS WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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