Unending controversies
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Since the start of his term in 2016, controversies and confusions continue to hound Duterte (PRRD) and his administration. And it is quite clear that no one else can be blamed except PRRD himself and his officials. Their unclear and sometimes contradicting statements have really brought about so many controversies and have caused a lot of doubts and disorientations on so many people.

The most recent dissensions and disputes were about this government’s refusal to allow the United Nations to investigate its various human rights violations. They have not yet completely died down but another controversy has already arisen. This is about the ramming and capsizing of a Philippine fishing boat with 22 Filipino fishermen on board by a Chinese vessel along the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea. The incident becomes even more striking and deplorable because the Chinese did not rescue the Filipino fishermen who were left adrift at sea for hours thus endangering their lives.

This maritime incident which occurred last June 9 should have elicited an immediate reaction from this government because the lives of 22 Filipinos were endangered and a Philippine fishing boat was damaged and sunk. Indeed the Captain of the Filipino fishing boat upon his rescue together with the rest of the fishermen by a Vietnamese vessel narrated that their boat was hit by the Chinese vessel causing it to capsize but its crew left them adrift at sea.

Intriguingly, this government especially PRRD kept quiet for quite a time although his Defense Secretary Lorenzana has initially deplored such maritime disaster particularly his denunciation of the vessel’s captain for not ordering the rescue of the Filipino fishermen. PRRD’s silence once more drew lots of adverse comments, conclusion and speculations by most Filipinos. The more obnoxious among them is the observation that PRRD is really pro China as many have already surmised before. In fact he was even accused of treason for such long silence on the incident. His beleaguered Spokesman Salvador Panelo once more tried to explain PRRD’s silence by claiming the President was just being cautious and want to get all the facts first.

The most deplorable and unfortunate aspect of this episode is PRRD’s assessment of the incident after being silent for more than a week. He downplayed the ramming of the Filipino fishing boat and declared that it was just “a little maritime accident.” Such assessment again drew the ire of so many of our countrymen because PRRD seemed to confirm the belief of a great number of Filipinos that he is afraid of China and that he favors China and the Chinese over his own country and people. This is the consensus among a great number of Filipinos because even if the hitting of the fishing boat is just a minor event, the fact remains that 22 lives of Filipinos were endangered because the crew of the Chinese vessel did not rescue them and just left them adrift at sea. Such inhuman act cannot be definitely considered as a minor incident because the lives of our countrymen were exposed to great danger. PRRD’s own Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in his speech at the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), said that “abandoning people in distress is a felony.” Thus the government should have at least filed a diplomatic protest against China.

As it is now emerging, and based on the conclusions of most Filipinos, the long silence of PRRD and his officials on this maritime incident has a reason. They were indeed preparing sufficient proof to support their soft assessment. Thus the very captain of the fishing vessel has changed his tune and said that he did not actually see the whole incident as he was asleep when it happened. He even confirmed that the collision of the two boats was really an accident. His turn around came after Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol talked to him. So people are now concluding that the ship captain of the fishing boat was “convinced” to recant his previous declaration in order to support PRRD’s assessment belittling the maritime collision. Another official who appears to have softened his stance and change his assessment of the maritime collision is Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana. While PRRD kept his silence on the matter, he already angrily denounced the incident and assailed the captain of the Chinese vessel for not rescuing the Filipino fishermen. Now he is defending PRRD’s initial silence allegedly because he did not have enough information yet about the incident. Furthermore he now agrees with PRRD that the fishing boat incident really appears to be just a minor accident based on the information gathered. Then of course Presidential Spokesman Panelo also joined the chorus and disputed the notions that PRRD does not want to offend China when he broke his silence and came out with a statement that the sinking of the Filipino boat is a “little maritime accident.”

This on-going notion about PRRD’s being Pro-China or that he is “scared” of China will not be completely dissipated because PRRD’s policies and actions really appear to favor China. When he assumed office, he already announced a major change in foreign policy by shifting his preference for China than the US. Such shift may really be for our best interest. The problem however is that people cannot erase the growing impression that our country is now under the control of China much like the previous relations we had with the US where we could not completely cut-off our dependence on said country after regaining our independence in 1946. So it will be better for this administration to refrain from appearing to be too dependent on China also.

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Email: attyjosesison@gmail.com

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