The Philippines may cut diplomatic relations with China if the collision between a Chinese vessel and a Filipino fishing boat in the Recto Bank was done intentionally,
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Thursday.
In a press briefing, Panelo said that President Rodrigo Duterte was outraged by the incident and said he would likely take steps similar to those taken against Canada in a recent row over garbage that had been illegally shipped to Manila.
“The incident in Recto Bank that placed 22 Filipino crewmen of FB Gimber 1 in danger could be considered an act of aggression if proven to be intentional,” Panelo said.
“We will cut off diplomatic relations, that’s the first thing we should do if there are aggressive acts. First, we will file a diplomatic protest and if they will not respond, that’s a different matter,” he said.
The Palace official said the country was taking “calibrated steps” in dealing with the issue.
“We will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, to be bullied, to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions from any source,” he said.
The crew of the Chinese vessel abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen
in open water after the collision sank the FB Gimber 1. The Filipinos were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel that responded to their distress call.
The Philippines has already filed a diplomatic protest regarding the ship-ramming incident.
Recently, the Philippines recalled all its top diplomats in Canada
to protest the country’s slowness in taking back tons of garbage shipped here by a private Canadian company six years ago.
“Given the steps undertaken by the President on the Canada trash issue
, diminishing of ties is more likely,” Panelo said.
But the Palace brushed aside the call of opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros to recall Philippine diplomats in China.
“We don’t need the advice of the good senator on that,” Panelo said at a news conference.
Hontiveros earlier urged the President to take decisive action.
“It stands to reason that if President Duterte can order the recall of our envoy and consuls in Canada over a dispute on garbage, he can do the same to defend and secure the lives of our fisherfolk and the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hontiveros said in a press statement.
But the Palace official said there is no need to summon Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua to explain his government’s position.
“I think we don’t have to summon him. If he’s listening now, he should explain,” Panelo added.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Thursday that he filed a diplomatic protest after he condemned the “hit-and-run” incident at Recto Bank.
“I fired off a diplomatic protest yesterday,” Locsin said, on his Twitter account, reacting to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s recommendation to take the issue before the International Maritime Organization.
“I will proceed on the merits of the case and what it calls for while the matter is studied by the International Maritime Organization [IMO],” Locsin added.
Locsin denounced the incident as “contemptible and condemnable.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Filipino ship was anchored when it was hit by the Chinese vessel.
The Armed Forces’ Western Command described the incident as “far from accidental” and likened it to a “hit and run.”
“After the collision, the Chinese vessel immediately left, it was like a hit and run,” AFP Wescom spokesman Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante said.
Malacañang said it would ask Beijing to sanction the crew of the Chinese ship involved in the incident.
The Palace described the act of abandoning the Filipino crew as “uncivilized” and “outrageous.”
In a statement, Panelo called the act of desertion “inhuman as it is barbaric” and said that it is a violation of maritime protocols.
“We call on the appropriate Chinese authorities to probe the collision and impose the proper sanctions on the Chinese crew,” Panelo said.
The Chinese crew’s abandonment of 22 Filipino fishermen at sea was an infringement of the internationally accepted practice of assisting a vessel in distress, he said.
“Regardless of the nature of the collision, whether it was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the downed Philippine vessel,” Panelo said.
“The present territorial conflict between the countries of the two colliding vessels pertaining to the area where the collision occurred, is not—and cannot be an impediment for the offending vessel to lend a hand to the distressed crew,” Panelo said.
He said the safety of the crew of the damaged Filipino vessel should have been the uppermost thought and helping them should have been the natural reaction of the crew of the other vessel.
Senators condemned the Chinese action Thursday, but Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that if it was between two fishing vessels, then it must have been an accident.
Nevertheless, the DFA should inform the Chinese government of the incident and find out what happened, Sotto said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Philippines does not treat its friends like that and “we don’t expect to be treated that way either.”
He noted that nothing short of a hard and serious punitive action by the Chinese leadership against the Chinese crew responsible for the “cowardly act” could ease the doubts of most Filipinos about the sincerity of China toward the Philippines.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III deplored the reported abandonment of the Filipino crewmen by the Chinese vessel, saying the rescue of all persons in distress at sea is a matter of humanitarian duty.
“No matter who was at fault, the crew of a sinking ship must never be abandoned by an able ship. The rescue of all persons in distress at sea is not only an obligation under international maritime law, it is also a matter of humanitarian duty,” said Pimentel, president of the ruling PDP-Laban.
Senator Richard Gordon said the Chinese crew “committed acts of inhumanity” by abandoning the Filipino crew, and must be made to answer for that.
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea or SOLAS and Article 98 of the 1982 UN
Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS mandate that vessels, especially after a collision, must render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers, and where possible, inform the other ship of the name of his own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.
“The Chinese crew violated these laws,” Gordon said.
He also said the Philippine Coast Guard should have been in position to protect Filipino fishermen.
Senator Grace Poe said the chairpersons of the Senate committees on foreign relations and national defense should conduct an investigation into the collision to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
“If we will not take actions, they might repeatedly do it again. They would not be afraid. But if we will protest, they might be cautious next time. They did what pirates do,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the incident demands strong and immediate action.
“We cannot let this incident pass. No self-respecting nation will allow that,” he said.
“What do you call a friend who abandons a friend in times of need?” Drilon said, referring to China.
Leftist legislators said President Duterte’s “subservience” to China was the reason the Chinese ship had the temerity to ram a Filipino fishing boat then leave its helpless crew in the water.
Rep. Arlene Brosas of the Party-list group Gabriela said the incident will give Duterte a chance to prove that he is not subservient to China and make good his repeated promises to stand for Filipinos.
“This is the time for the Duterte administration to take a stand and prove that it is not a lackey of the China. The Philippines has been dishonored by the continuous silence and acquiescence of the Duterte administration to whatever China does with regards to the country,” she added.
Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list echoed Brosas’ view, saying the incident demands an investigation and diplomatic action.
“The safety of our own people and protection of our seas should be the utmost considerations as we resolve this matter,” Alejano said.
Rep. Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis Party-list condemned the incident and urged Duterte to do the same.
“We are like seeing a pet dog commanding his master to punish one of his children. We demand that President Duterte rally the Filipino people against the act through an executive issuance of national condemnation,” Casilao said.
Casilao also demanded a special protection for the Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, and challenged the Armed Forces of the Philippines to defend the national territory.
A spokesman for the Western Command, Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante, said the act was deliberate.
“According to our report, it’s far from accidental, because if it were accidental, the standard operating procedure would be for them to stop and rescue our fishermen,” he said.
READ: Chinese boat sinks PH vessel, 22 Pinoys rescued