Crewmen of Filipino fishing boat Gem-Vir 1 board Philippine Navy ship BRP Tausug Friday, June 15, 2019.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos
Members of UP Visayas community slam 'betrayal' of Filipino fisherfolk
( - June 25, 2019 - 10:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — 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 statement condemning the allision at the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea "and the subsequent downplaying of the incident by the Duterte administration."

The unity statement is also meant to show solidarity with the fisherfolk of the Philippines, whom the signatories said are among the poorest and most vulnerable sectors in the country.

"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 said in an online statement 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 F/B Gem-Ver 1 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. 

"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," the president said.

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

Critics of the government's policy towards China on the West Philippine Sea have not called for the Philippines to go to war over the incident, or over reports of China building artificial islands in the South China Sea, part of which is the WPS.

'Not the first incident in WPS'

The signatories said the Recto Bank allision is not an isolated incident.

"In June 2018, Chinese coast guard were caught extorting from Filipino fishers. However, the government, rather than choosing to address the issue, also downplayed the incident citing it only as 'barter'," they said.

They were referring to a GMA News report that some personnel of China's coast guard had been taking the catch of Filipinos on Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, a traditional fishing ground near Zambales. Sometimes the Chinese coastguardsmen gave the Filipinos fishers water, noodles or cigarettes in exchange for the fish.

"Additionally, the government’s response towards the recent issue on the poaching of giant clams by the Chinese in the WPS further affirmed that Duterte will never side with the Filipinos but is instead willing to forego serious matters where the Chinese are concerned," they also said.

RELATED: Locsin: No one goes to war for clams

They also listed other so-called betrayals, including "the forgotten promise to create the Department of Fisheries to develop the long-neglected and undervalued fisheries sector" as well as higher excise taxes on fuel under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law as well as plans for reclamation projects along Manila Bay that they said would displace thousands of fisherfolk and destroy fish habitats.

"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 [West Philippine Sea] a priority," the statement reads.

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