A year after Recto Bank incident, no change in policy in West Philippine Sea â Diokno
On June 9, 2019, Filipino fishing boat GemVer 1 sank after being rammed by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos, file

A year after Recto Bank incident, no change in policy in West Philippine Sea — Diokno

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - June 9, 2020 - 2:09pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has not changed its policy in the West Philippine Sea a year after a Chinese vessel rammed into a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno noted that while the incident drew public outrage, Philippine officials seemed to walk back and downplay the incident.

"It seems that the government was not swayed by the public outrage and really didn't do much in terms of changing any of its policies as far as Chinese incursions into our territory is concerned," Diokno said in a virtual roundtable discussion organized by Stratbase ADRi Tuesday.

Diokno noted how the government ended up opening its doors wider to such kind of intrusion from China but became "lukewarm" when it came to the livelihood of fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

The human rights lawyer's statement comes as a beaching ramp builty by a contractor on Pag-Asa Island in Palawan is turned over the government. According to news reports, the new facility will make it easier for the Philippines to build up defenses and infrastructure in the West Philippine Sea.

In April, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro Locsin Jr. tweeted that he had sent diplomatic protests to the Chinese Embassy over "the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in [Philippine] waters" and "declaring parts of Philippine territory as part of Hainan province."

The Navy said that BRP Conrado Yap was on patrol in the Kalayaan Island Group in February when it issued a radio challenge to a ship that identified itself as Chinese. "From there, PS39 was able to visually observe that the gun control director, an equipment that gives information in obtaining a fire control solution, of said PLAN vessel was directed towards PS39."

The Navy's Western Command said the Chinese vessel showed "hostile intent", although Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana cahracterized the encounter as "hindi naman offensive masyado (somewhat offensive)."

He said the Chinese ship probably wanted to test the Philippine Navy's reaction and did not really intend to cause harm.

Philippines plays down Recto Bank incident

For instance, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana initially denounced the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen "to the mercy of the elements."

Lorenzana was the first to condemn the incident but later on claimed the collision was "just an accident", echoing the position of China on the incident as "an ordinary maritime traffic accident."

President Rodrigo Duterte himself downplayed the ramming of the Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel as a "little maritime accident."

With this, Diokno said it is up to the Filipino people to ensure that the government understands that the issue is not small but it is about the livelihood of fisherfolks.

"Gem-Ver can be both a reminder and a spark. It can remind them that we will not forget and whether they like it or not, their day of reckoning will come," Diokno said.

Diokno and lawyer Andre Palacios, both representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), earlier for a writ of kalikasan in the West Philippine Sea on behalf of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales.

The petition before the Supreme Court sought to compel the government to protect and rehabilitate the Scarborough Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef, which are also being claimed by China.

The IBP, as well as Diokno, withdrew as counsels after at least 19 fishermen "disowned" the petition and backed out of the case.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 24, 2019 - 9:43am

Updates in the aftermath of the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a suspected Chinese trawler.

September 24, 2019 - 9:43am

A philanthropist from Shanghai has turned over a commercial fishing vessel to replace F/B Gem-Ver 1, which was damaged and sank in the the Recto Bank allision in June, columnist and special envoy Ramon Tulfo says in a press release. 

"The fishing boat, christened as F/B Pengyou, replaced the F/B Gem-Ver 1 that was sunk at Recto Bank in the South China Sea," the Office of the Special Envoy for Public Diplomacy to China says. Recto Bank is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Tulfo says Xue Chengbuao, a tycoon from Shanghai, turned over the the boat in a ceremony in San Jose, Mindoro Occidental on Sunday.

"F/B Pengyou is 17 meters long and 1.6 meters wide. It weighs 10.6 tons and has a Fuso engine with 160 hp," Tulfo's office also says.

"Pengyou" is Mandarin Chinese for friend.

July 8, 2019 - 1:04pm

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo says there is no contradiction in the Philippine Coast Guard's report that the June 9 Recto Bank incident is a “very serious maritime casualty” and President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier statement that the incident was a "little maritime incident."

"It's serious in the sense that when you leave our countrymen there then that's a serious matter," Panelo explains, adding that even if it is a serious matter "you cannot blow that and make it into an international crisis."

He adds the Philippines will "definitely" seek accountability from China over the allision that sank F/B Gem-Ver 1.

He says China will be the one to decide on how it should deal with or make accountable the crew of the Chinese vessel that left 22 Filipino fishermen after the allision.

June 27, 2019 - 3:10pm

Vice President Leni Robredo says Senate President Tito Sotto's remark on allowing Chinese to fish within the Philippine EEZ as "the fish could be coming from China" is a bit insensitive, especially to Filipino fishermen whose rights are violated.

"Tingin ko, medyo insensitive siya dahil mayroong mga [mangingisda] tayong na-violate iyong kanilang mga karapatan. Para sa akin, at this point, kailangan nating siguruhin na maramdaman noong mga mangingisda na hindi sila iniwan. Maramdaman nila na tayong lahat nagtutulong-tulong para makahanap sila ng hustisya sa sinapit nila," she says.

June 26, 2019 - 8:30am

Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio in a statement says the Philippine government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish within the country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea as it violates the Constitution.

"The Constitution mandates, 'The State shall protect the nation's marine wealth in its exclusive economic zonem and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens,'" he says.

"This means that the Philippine Government cannot allow Chinese fishermen to fish in our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. This also means that the 'use and enjoyment' of the fish in our EEZ is reserved exclusively to Filipinos."


June 25, 2019 - 8:34pm

More than 200 students, faculty and alumni of the University of the Philippines Visayas – College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Miagao, Iloilo have signed a petition condemning the allision at the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea "and the subsequent downplaying of the incident by the Duterte administration."

"We demand full accountability not only on the crew of the Chinese vessel for endangering the lives of the 22 Filipino fisherfolk, but also on the Duterte administration for betraying the trust of our fisherfolk, the constituents whom this government should be protecting and serving," they say in an online petition shared on social media.

The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest with China over the incident but President Rodrigo Duterte and his officials have played the allision down, calling it a "little maritime incident."

Duterte on Monday night said he is sorry that the crew of the F/B Gem-Ver who were left behind by the Chinese vessel after the allision feel "belittled." He explained that China also considers Recto Bank with its jurisdiction despite it being within the Philippines EEZ. 

"Seeing how the government treats the fisheries sector and the fisherfolk, we are inclined to believe that this administration puts the interest of the Chinese first rather than making the Filipino fishers and WPS a priority," the petitioners say.

"Our fisherfolk are among the poorest and most vulnerable sector in the society. Now, more than ever, is the time to stand in solidarity with them and condemn this blatant turncoatism by the Duterte administration. Let us translate our anger into concrete collective action. Hold Duterte and China accountable," they say.

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