The President is waiting for all facts to come in before commenting on the incident involving Chinese and Filipino vessels in Reed Bank on June 9. This supposedly explains his long silence on the issue, amid different versions and a jumble of positions.
The Chinese embassy, through a Facebook post, claimed the Yuemaobinyu 42212 was “suddenly besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats.” As a result, during evacuation, a part of the Chinese boat “bumped into the Filipino pilothouse, and the Filipino boat tilted and its stern foundered.”
The embassy also claimed that the Chinese captain tried to rescue the fishermen but became afraid of being besieged by the other Filipino boats. Thus, it sailed away from the scene.
For unknown reasons, this social media post was later taken down. The spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry also dismissed the incident as an ordinary maritime traffic incident.
Meanwhile, the captain of the fishing boat, Junel Insigne, said the Chinese were well aware that their boat was sinking and even turned off their lights before fleeing the scene.
Twenty-two men were left at sea and were rescued by a Vietnamese boat—a case of maritime hit and run.
President Duterte was scheduled to meet Insigne Monday, but the meeting did not push through.
Mr. Duterte has been roundly criticized for his conspicuous and uncharacteristic silence about where he stands on the incident. For one who is known to speak hastily on any topic, Mr. Duterte certainly picked a good time to start being particular about the facts—and circumspect about saying what he really thinks.
It was only on Monday, eight days after the sinking, that Mr. Duterte spoke on the issue, characterizing it as a maritime incident. “I'm not in my boyhood days anymore,” he added, meaning he would not do or say anything premature or provocative to China.
Unfortunately, such care could be easily misinterpreted as being cowed by the Chinese, refusing to stand up for our people, or both.
The President wants to see first the results of an investigation before saying something definitive about the incident. That's well and good, so long as we can be assured that the investigation is conducted by an objective party, unhampered by any strings.
Mr. Duterte is correct to want to know all the facts first, but even here there needs to be caution: Whose version of the facts will prevail? What interests will determine which facts are highlighted and which ones played down?
However the probe progresses, it will not hurt to hear Mr. Duterte assuring Filipinos that he remains a steadfast defender of our people's rights, and that his affection for our giant neighbor to the north is secondary only to his love of our own country.