In this June 14, 2019 photo, crewmen of F/B Gem-Ver 1 board the Philippine Navy's BRP Tausug after being rescued.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos
Binay: 'Little maritime accident' tag diminishes Filipinos' testimony
( - June 19, 2019 - 2:31pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:39 p.m.)  — Sen. Nancy Binay on Wednesday said that calling the Recto Bank incident, where a Chinese vessel sank a Filipino boat and left its 22 crew in the water an "ordinary maritime accident" diminishes the testimony of our countrymen.

In a statement, Binay said that what happened in Recto Bank, where the lives of 22 Filipino fishermen were in danger, "could not have been any ordinary sea accident."

She added: "What’s saddening is China’s statements have overshadowed the testimonies and first-hand accounts of the crew."

The statement comes on the same day that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana—the first to condemned the Chinese vessel's abandonment of the Filipinos in a statement on June 12— tempered his comments on the incident.

Hsaid he now believes the incident, which the government now calls an allision because the Filipino boat was at anchor when the Chinese vessel hit it, was an accident.

The military's Western Command said last week that it believes the ramming was "far from accidental" and pointed out that the Chinese vessel should have stopped and rescued the Filipinos.

The Palace now says the Chinese were not obligated to help since they felt that rescuing the Filipinos would endanger them.

Duterte plays down incident at Navy anniversary

It took a week for President Rodrigo Duterte to address the matter in a speech. The firebrand leader said that the ramming of a Chinese vessel into the Filipino fishing boat is a “little maritime accident,” and stressed that an investigation is needed.

“Maritime incident is a maritime incident. It is best investigated. And I do not now issue a statement because there is no investigation and there is no result,” he added.

Binay stressed that what is important is that the Filipino crew where left in the water by the Chinese crew.

"More than the exchange of responses whethere or not it was an accident, for me, is the Chinese vessel’s abandonment and that they left them to die in the middle of water is inhumane and unacceptable," Binay said.

The lawmaker said that even if what happened was an accident, the Chinese crew would have first thought of saving the Filipino fishermen.

She added that United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea is clear on the duty to rescue.

“We should call out the Chinese government for abandoning our fishermen. We should seek accountability,” she said.

“If we will accept this as an accident, we just showed the world how we take care of our people,” Binay added.

Lacson: Defense counsel for China?

Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said that testimony of the Vietnamese fishermen who helped the Filipino crew “has value” as it corroborated what the Filipino crew said.

The senator stressed that the Vietnamese crew is a “disinterested” party in the case and what they said “could bolster” what the Filipino fisherfolk said.

RELATED: Duterte’s maritime accident statement heartbreaking —Lacson

Saigon Times cites a report on VnExpress, a Vietnamese-language news website with an international edition in English, that says Ngo Van Theng, 54, from Tien Giang province, has confirmed that it was his boat that rescued the Filipinos, whom the Chinese vessel reportedly abandoned after the incident.

Theng said his boat's captain, Nguyen Thanh Tam, told him that they were at anchor "in the waters off Vietnam's Truong Sa islands"—Vietnam occupies Spratly Island, which it calls Truong Sa— around 1 AM on June 10 when he and his crew heard voices speaking in a foreign language.

READ: Vietnamese media reports rescue of 'hungry, quivering' Filipino fishers

"At first, the captain said, he feared that they might be pirates but later found them both soaking wet and shivering and thought they might have had an accident at sea. The foreign men continued using hand signals to request help and pointed towards Reed Bank," Saigon Times reported.

The Vietnamese report echoed what the Filipino crew aboard Gem-Ver 1 said.

Lacson also said government officials seem to be defending China when they cast doubt on the statements of the Filipino fishermen on the incident.

Lacson, at the weekly Kapihan sa Senado forum, said that presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo's mindset "is like a defense counsel, entering an appearance for China."

He also said that the Palace statement was "too defensive" of the Chinese sailors who caused the incident and not of the Filipino crew whose lives were put in danger when their boat sank.

"That is when the controversy arose," Lacson pointed out. —  Kristine Joy Patag

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