“Hey morons! I merely NOTED the Chinese apology. I did not accept it. I am not a fisherman,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a tweet late Wednesday night.
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Locsin: Chinese boat owner’s apology noted, not accepted
Pia Lee-Brago, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 30, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The apology relayed to Filipino fishermen by the owner of the Chinese vessel that rammed and sank their boat last June was “merely noted” and not accepted, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. clarified.

“Hey morons! I merely NOTED the Chinese apology. I did not accept it. I am not a fisherman,” Locsin said in a tweet late Wednesday night.

Locsin also clarified in the same tweet that presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo “merely expressed satisfaction with the Chinese apology for the incident and the offer of compensation and nothing more.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released on Wednesday a memorandum from Guangdong Provincial Fishery Mutual Insurance Association president Chen Shiqin titled “Chinese Apology on the Recto Bank Collision Incident.”

The memorandum confirmed that the Chinese vessel involved in the accident on the evening of June 9 was registered in Guangdong province and its owner a member of the association.

Malacañang earlier said the Philippines has accepted the apology of the owner of the Chinese ship that hit Filipino fishing vessel F/B Gem-Ver near Recto Bank (Reed Bank), an area within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Chinese abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen floundering in the waters for hours and who were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

The Recto Bank incident prompted the DFA to file a diplomatic protest against Beijing.

The Chinese association falsely claimed in its apology that Recto Bank  (Reed Bank) is part of the Nansha Island Group, internationally known as the Spratly Islands.

Earlier, the Palace said the Chinese ship owner had displayed “humility” by making an apology.

“We accept the recent apology extended by the owner of the Chinese vessel to our fishermen affected by the incident. We likewise welcome the owner’s humility to take responsibility and acknowledgment that compensation must be provided to cover the actual loss,” Panelo said in a statement.

The letter, received by the Philippine embassy in Beijing on Aug. 26 and translated by the Chinese embassy in Manila, also mentioned the association’s request for information on the ship owner, ship captain as well as from the crew of the fishing boat.

The apology was issued on the same day President Duterte left for his fifth visit to China.

Not yet cleared

In Beijing, Philippine Ambassador Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said the apology does not exculpate the Chinese boat owner and his men for abandoning the Filipinos in open sea.

While the Recto Bank incident is “on the cusp of a closure,” Sta. Romana said the compensation for the 22 Filipino fishermen and the accountability of the Chinese ship crew would be subject to further discussions.

“It (apology) does not excuse them for their responsibility. Their responsibility includes that by the way, the fact that they did not rescue our fishermen. And it is something that is subject for further discussion in the sense that how do we avoid this in the future,” Sta. Romana said at a press briefing in the Chinese capital.

“I think we have made a breakthrough. This apology of course represents the ship owner. But in a sense, I think through diplomatic discussions with the Chinese side we have made it clear that this had a negative impact, had an adverse impact on the bilateral relations particularly on Chinese image,” he added.

He said the Chinese ship owner may help correct the negative repercussion of the incident by clearly explaining their side publicly and subjecting themselves to investigation.

He maintained the Chinese ship owner issued an apology after “intense negotiations” between the DFA and its Chinese counterpart, as well as between embassies.

“But it was clear to us that not only from the President but also from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he made it clear what we want is a public formal apology, written not verbal. And that’s what took a bit of time,” Sta. Romana said.

“What we didn’t want was, you know they’ll tell me ‘I’m sorry’ and then I’ll be the one to tell the Filipino, he said ‘I’m sorry.’ We wanted them to explain to the Filipino people. And that I think that’s why we wanted something not in the name of DFA or not in the name of the result of the discussion,” he added.

Visit called off

Sta. Romana also said the Chinese government had requested that it be allowed to send a delegation to visit the fishermen of the sunken boat Gem-Ver 1. The two countries did not have further discussions on the request because “the atmosphere was just not too favorable” at the time, he added.

Asked if the owner and crew of the Chinese ship are not yet off the hook, Sta. Romana replied: “I have to consult my legal advisers on this issue.”

Pressed if the issuance of apology can be viewed as an admission of guilt, the ambassador did not give a direct answer.

“Well, they accepted responsibility. As to the nuance whether you go into legal niceties here, I’d rather stick to what they said. They accepted the major share of responsibility,” Sta. Romana said.

He said the fact that the Chinese foreign ministry was “deeply involved” in the discussions only meant that it shares “moral responsibility” for the incident.

“But the specific responsibility is that of the fishing boat. In other words, they actually facilitated the investigation and exchange of results. So the Chinese government cooperated,” he added.

Sta. Romana said the Chinese had expressed willingness to compensate “very early on but again, verbally.”

“But we knew compensation was probably the least of the issues given China’s standard of living and their economy. It was really the issue of the apology and the responsibility. Even the accepting their major responsibility that was pretty early on on a verbal basis… but we wanted, you know, to clear the air,” he said.

“On the compensation, this is a matter that will have to be studied because they are procedural. But we will probably proceed and try to help out the fishermen and owner in the Philippines. And the question is how to quantify all this. So you obviously need expert advice,” he added.

Not deliberate

Sta. Romana said the Chinese owner had maintained that the ship crew did not mean to abandon the Filipino fishermen.

“There are additional details like... they heard the shouts for help but they couldn’t understand the language and they were overcome by fear. And then that they reported instead to the fishing authorities of China that what happened as they were leaving,” Sta. Romana said. 

“Maybe they should have reported to our fishing authorities or to all – a body that will notify all the literal countries. I think if they knew they were Filipinos maybe it would have been a different story,” he added.

“It was fortunate that there were no casualties. I feel deep regret that this accident had to happen and I would like to express my deep sympathy to the Filipino fishermen,” the memorandum containing the Chinese apology read.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary-general Renato Reyes, meanwhile, dismissed the apology as “insufficient and dubious.” He said the Chinese fishermen did not indicate that they had intentionally abandoned the Filipinos.

“The apology also tries to cover up the fact that the Chinese vessel was in violation of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It makes the false claim that the maritime incident happened in the Spratlys and not within our exclusive economic zone,” Reyes said.

He said militant groups are set to gather tomorrow outside the Chinese consulate to demand an end to China’s violations of Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. Militant groups will also demand Beijing’s compliance with the 2016 arbitral court ruling invalidating China’s massive claim in the South China Sea.

“The Duterte regime should be firm in asserting our legal victory, three years after it was achieved. President Duterte should not subject the Philippines to debt dependency on China as it can undermine our assertion of our legal victory in the West Philippine Sea,” Reyes said. – With Rhodina Villanueva

APOLOGY CHINESE VESSEL DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS TEODORO LOCSIN JR.
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