The United States has called on the Philippines and China to exercise restraint following the ship-ramming incident near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, the US advised countries to refrain from using coercion and intimidation to assert their maritime claims over the South China Sea.
“We saw news reports of the collision at sea. We are thankful none of the Filipino fishermen lost their lives and glad that Vietnamese fishermen rescued them from the open sea,” the US embassy said, in a statement.
“Our position on the South China Sea is clear: We support lawful uses of the sea, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peace and stability. We urge all parties to refrain from using coercion and intimidation to assert their territorial and maritime claims,” the US embassy added.
A Chinese vessel rammed and sank the Philippine fishing boat on the evening of June 9, 2019, and left 22 Filipino crewmen abandoned “to the mercy of the elements,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs had filed a diplomatic protest over the ship-ramming incident.
While it denied that it was a hit-and-run, the China said it would “continue to properly handle this issue with the Philippines in a serious and responsible manner.”
On Saturday, the Philippines asked the international community to protect life at sea in cases of maritime distress.
In a statement at the 101st Session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) dated June 14, the Philippines noted how the Filipino crew “were callously abandoned to the elements on the rough seas and would have perished” if a Vietnamese vessel did not rescue them.
Delivering the statement, Deputy Permanent Representative to the IMO Senen Mangalile said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the IMO conventions on Safety of Life at Sea and Maritime Search and Rescue have express provisions on rendering assistance to distressed mariners.
“It is the obligation of every responsible member of the UN and the IMO to implement these conventions and related codes concerning maritime safety and security, rather than just paying lip service to them,” Mangalile said.
“It is also our moral obligation to save a human life whenever we can do so,” he added.
During the IMO meeting, Mangalile thanked Vietnam on behalf of the Philippine government for the assistance it provided to the 22 distressed Filipino fishermen.
The MSC deals with all matters related to maritime safety and security, which falls under the mandate of the IMO.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Sunday the ramming incident was part of China’s bullying tactics to assert its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.
“This is not just an isolated incident. I see a clear pattern of bullying and intimidation,” Drilon said.
Senators JV Ejercito and Risa Hontiveros also condemned the actions of the Chinese vessel, particularly its abandoning the Filipino fishermen.
Hontiveros said the claim of the Chinese vessel that it accidentally hit the Filipino boat because it was “suddenly besieged by seven or eight Filipino boats” was ridiculous.
“Equally incredible is the excuse that the Chinese vessel failed to rescue our fishermen because it was “afraid of being besieged” by our boats,” said Hontiveros.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said China’s version of the events is as fake as its territorial claims.
“Between a press release and the narrative of our Filipino fishermen, there is no question who is the besieged victim telling the truth,” he said.
“We hope our government is of the same mind, and will side with truth and our people,” he added.
He said it was enraging how China continued to find ways to escape liability.
“We need genuine leadership. Now is the time to stand up and speak out for our people. Now is the time to show real grit and toughness. There is never a time to be meek and submissive before a foreign power that endangers our own people,” he said.
Drilon added: “It is important that the government is able to assert our sovereignty and point out the indignity they committed against our people. It is something that we must do and sustain.”
He said a multilateral approach to the territorial dispute would be more favorable to the Philippines, because the bilateral approach favored by the Duterte administration and its policy of appeasement are not effective.
“For the stability and peace in the WPS, all claimants, not just the Philippines and China, should the discuss the matter,” he said.
Drilon said the Chinese statement that a trawler accidentally bumped the Filipino fishing boat showed that Beijing was trying to make fools out of Filipinos.
Drilon said it is clear from the accounts of the Filipino fishermen and the circumstances by which the Vietnamese vessel found and rescued the Filipino crew, that the Filipinos were abandoned after the Chinese vessel hit their boat.
He said that it is evident that China violated the provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Drilon said the Chinese government owed the Filipino people an apology.
“At the very least, we should demand an apology from them. Whether what happened is deliberate or an accident, they should apologize,” he said.
The minority leader also hoped that the next Senate will take a more active stand on the issue of the WPS, agreeing with the observations that the issue was not given enough attention in the 17th Congress.
Also on Sunday, the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) on for sobriety amid heightening tension arising from the Chinese ship-ramming incident near the Recto Bank in the West Philippines Sea.
Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of FFCCCII, also revealed that the country’s largest organization of Filipino Chinese businesses has decided to extend assistance to the 22 Filipino fishermen in the immediate rehabilitation of their damaged fishing boat, which was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel.
The FFCCCII decided to extend assistance to the distressed fishermen after receiving a call from Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana asking him if the federation could help the affected fishermen.
“We wish to express our concern for their welfare and our solidarity. We hope that the civic and humanitarian gesture by the FFCCCII can help alleviate the plight of our unfortunate countrymen,” Liong added.
The FFCCCII official expressed hopes that the incident would not affect the revitalized diplomatic relations between China and the Philippines.
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