MALACAÑANG yesterday said that the similarity between the statements of President Rodrigo Duterte and a Chinese official calling Recto Bank incident a “maritime accident” was just a coincidence.
Breaking his week-long silence on the Recto Bank incident where a Chinese vessel reportedly rammed a Philippine fishing boat, Duterte on Monday dismissed the incident as a “little maritime accident” involving two boats.
His comment sounded similar to the June 13 statement of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, who said the matter was an “ordinary maritime traffic incident.” The Chinese official likewise, said it is irresponsible for the Philippines to politicize the incident without verification.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte’s remark was not an echo of the statement of the Chinese official.
“Not really echoed. Nagkataon na similar ‘yung kanilang initial findings, hindi ibig sabihin na meron silang usapan na ganoon,” he said.
Panelo said that before judging the President, the public must remember that the chief executive investigates first before he speaks, especially since the Philippine government is still awaiting “facts” related to the incident.
He said the President is not necessarily trying to avoid offending China by not airing strong condemnation, and he was only refraining from issuing a policy statement “because the facts are not yet in.”
“Kailangan marinig din natin. They have the right to be heard also,” Panelo said, referring to the Chinese crew that abandoned the 22 fishermen floating at sea near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea for hours on June 9.
Meanwhile Catholic prelates yesterday called on the government to stand with Filipino fishermen whose boat was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the government cannot leave the fishermen in a lurch as it is obliged to intervene to protect their interest.
“The government has a duty to protect its citizens and its territory. It should not allow itself to be bullied and let its people suffer,” he said.
The bishop was reacting to President Rodrigo Duterte’s remark that seemed to downplay the June 9 incident in the West Philippine Sea. Breaking his silence on the issue, Duterte on Monday appealed for calm over what he called a “little maritime incident.”
Pabillo urged the government to use its diplomatic channels to hold accountable the Chinese crew involved in the incident.
“The government should send the message that this is a serious matter that should be resolved and not be treated only as a mere incident,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said the government’s treatment of the issue shows its bias for China.
“Duterte is selective in dispensing justice. This is a sign that his judgment cannot be relied upon on serious moral and social issues,” he said.
With Lee Ann P. Ducusin