President Rodrigo Duterte salutes the honor guards as he leads the wreath-laying ceremony at the bust of Dr. Jose Rizal as part of the 121st Philippine Independence Day celebration at the 6th Infantry Battalion Grounds in Malabang, Lanao del Sur on June 12, 2019.
Presidential Photo/Toto Lozano
Duterte sorry Recto Bank fishermen feel belittled
Alexis Romero ( - June 24, 2019 - 10:16pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday apologized to the 22 fishermen whose fishing boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank but maintained that what happened was a "little" maritime incident.

Duterte said the Recto Bank incident was little because it did not lead to bloodshed.

"Well, I'm sorry, but that's how it is. It is a maritime incident, little in a sense that there was no confrontation, there was no bloody violence," the president said.

"If you want to get back at them, that is not, that is not a reason to go to any military exercise there. If you do that, it will lead to war," Duterte told reporters during the premiere night of the movie "Kontradiksyon" in Pasig.

Although critics of the government's response to the incident have called for a tougher stance over the allision inside the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone, they have not called for the Philippine Navy to send ships or for anything close to a military response.

READ: War is not the answer: How other claimants handled maritime incidents

'The area is claimed by both'

Duterte had been asked to react to the statement of the owner of the sunken Filipino fishing boat who felt that their ordeal was belittled.

"I'm sorry if that's their feeling. But they know that area is claimed by both. For China, it happened within their jurisdiction. For us, it was within our jurisdiction. Because we have two conflicting claims," he said.

"This was not to belittle anything. There was damage, but luckily nobody died. Maliit itong bagay na ito for anybody to bring in the war, the gray ships."

Senators from both the majority and minority blocs have raised concerns on a planned joint probe into the incident with China, stressing that Recto Bank is within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile EEZ.

"The government must seriously consider the issue of sovereignty in the conduct of a joint investigation with China. The 2016 Hague ruling expressly states that Recto Bank is part of the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile [exclusive economic zone]," Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a member of the Senate majority bloc, said Sunday.

"It is ours. Are we waiving ownership of Recto Bank?" he also said.

READ: 'Probe should include why Chinese vessel was in Philippine EEZ'

Asked if China can be prevented from fishing within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, Duterte replied: "I don't think China will do that. Why? We're friends. And they are of the same view that it should not result in a bloody confrontation."

'Due process,fair play'

Duterte said he has received the preliminary report of the Navy and Coast Guard on the incident and is open to having a third party in the probe on the boat sinking.

"Well, if it's going to be a marine board of inquiry, whatever satisfies the requirement of fair play and due process. Due process (means) everybody should be heard, fair play is there is no one that is under suspicion of siding with the other and you can only do that if you have a board," he said.

Duterte said China is free to conduct its own probe even if the Philippines already has a preliminary report.

"If they (China) want another investigation, I am amenable to that or they can always also invesitgate on their own and we can confront each other with our evidence," he said.

"If it's just me, it's always biased even if it's not. Their report would always be according to the theory of the incident. For us, it's prejudice. Then nothing will happen." 

The Palace said Saturday that Duterte has agreed to the joint probe with China.

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