Duterte on Recto Bank incident: Wait and let the other party be heard
Navy photo shows the first batch of Filipino fishermen rescued in the waters off Recto Bank after their fishing boat was hit by a Chinese vessel. Right shows the damaged stern of the F/B Gemvir1.

Duterte on Recto Bank incident: Wait and let the other party be heard

(Philstar.com) - June 17, 2019 - 7:47pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday evening said he is waiting for more information on the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, but also said the incident is "just a collision of ships."

Speaking at the Philippine Navy anniversary, Duterte said in Filipino that "the collision that happened, that is a maritime incident." He also criticized unnamed politicians whom he said want to send gray ships, or military ships, to the area in response.

"A maritime incident is a maritime incident. I will not issue a statement because there is no investigation and no result. Wait and give the other party the right to be heard. China, ano ba dito ang totoo (what is the truth here)?" he also said.

It is unclear who Duterte meant but members of the political opposition have called for diplomatic approaches to the incident. China has acknowledged that a Chinese fishing vessel was involved but said the vessel did not abandon the crew of the F/B Gem-Vir 1. 

The Chinese Embassy said the fishing vessel left because it was afraid of being "besieged" by Philippine boats that it said were in the area. The Filipinos were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel, according to the Department of National Defense which first told media about the incident.

"You know, I would like that—if it were up to me, I want action. But I am not in my boyhood age anymore," Duterte, who is 74, said.

He added there is no reason to go to war over two boats.

"You read a lot about fumigation, anger, just about anything. You know, we are ruled as a civilized nation, and as members of the community by the laws that govern whatever happen in the seas as we go along our business. There will be rules for a military confrontation, there will be rules for a mistaken identity attack, there is a rule for fishermen's boats, there is a rule for an aircraft carrier bumping a fishing boat," the president said.

It was the first time for the president to speak up about the incident, although the Palace said last week that he was outraged by the reported abandonment of the Gem-Vir 1's crew.

Despite Duterte's stance on the incident, Malacañang is inviting Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to explain China's version of the event.

"He was invited so we can talk to him about the final version. What we got so far is unofficial," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. 

Duterte soon moved on to other topics, including the party-list system and the New People's Army. He also said Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat of the military Northern Luzon Command will be appointed head of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

Palace: Duterte waiting for facts to set in

In a press briefing earlier Monday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Philippines has to "cautiously walk on this", pointing out that China has a different version of events.

He also said that the president was not being silent on the issue. "He's waiting for the facts to set in before he makes any declaration," the president's spokesperson also said.

"It's a maritime case or an ordinary case involving adversarial claims," Panelo, who is also chief presidential legal adviser, said. — with The STAR/Alexis Romero

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