MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is being “cautious” in making statements on the Recto Bank incident because he does not want the issue “blown into an international crisis”, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo explained that Duterte’s desire to hear out both the Philippine and Chinese sides on the issue is also to protect the two country’s foreign relations which he worked so hard to improve.
“The President is a very cautious person and as a lawyer he is trained to listen to all sides especially because there are adversarial claims,” Panelo, who is also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, said in a Palace briefing.
“He doesn’t want this blown into an international crisis given the fact na alam mo, matagal din nabago yung relasyon from the time yung previous administration na masama ang relasyon (you know, it took a long time before the Philippine relations with China improved from not so good ties during the previous administration),” he added.
Panelo had previously blamed the previous administration of President Benigno Aquino III for allowing China to start the militarization of the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS) or South China Sea.
He noted that Duterte worked hard to “nurture” the Philippine and China ties, which explains why he is determined to maintain them.
He said the President is also considering the welfare of over 320,000 Filipino workers in China and fishermen at the Recto Bank but acknowledged the outrage felt by Filipinos towards the incident.
“Yung ang mga bina-balanse ni Presidente (That’s what the President is trying to balance),” Panelo said.
A Chinese vessel allegedly rammed and abandoned a wooden Filipino fishing boat in the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the WPS on June 9, 2019.
“We can understand of course the outrage by our countrymen e kasi lahat naman tayo na-outrage kasi nga yun ang dating sa atin na sinadya, binangga tapos iniwan (because we are all outraged because it seems to us that it was intentional, we were rammed, then abandoned),” Panelo said.
No established facts
Panelo explained the difference between Duterte’s strong remarks against Canada after it failed to immediately retrieve tons of waste it dumped in the Philippines in 2013 with his tame remarks versus China’s alleged abandonment of Filipino fishermen at sea.
“Some people are saying, ‘How come in Canada, eh bumanat kaagad siya. Ito po ang diperensiya saka iyong incident: Iyong Canada established ang facts. You cannot refute it (he immediately attacked. This is the difference: Canada’s trash issue was based on established facts),” Panelo said.
“Eh ito, hindi niya pa nga alam iyong tunay na facts (In the Recto Bank case, he does not know the real facts yet),” he added.
He also admitted that there were circumstances that “give doubt” to the versions of Filipino fishermen, particularly between the fishing boat’s captain Junel Insigne and cook Richard Blaza, emphasizing the importance of a formal inquiry.
“Parang may conflict ‘yung kapitan at saka ‘yung cook. Ang tingin ng kapitan, sinadya; sabi ng cook, mukhang hindi nakita (There seems to be a conflict between the statements of the boat captain and the cook. The captain thinks it was done intentionally; the cook says it’s possible they were not seen by the Chinese),” Panelo said.
Panelo, however, explained that this did not mean that government is not working to protect Filipino fishermen citing government’s filing of a diplomatic protest and efforts to assist them.
In fact, he said the reason why Duterte has been waiting for investigation results to set in first is because he knows that there would be “repercussions” that could arise if the Philippines makes the wrong move.
In an interview with reporters, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles explained that Duterte’s caution in relation to the Recto Bank incident is to avoid being taken out of context by China.
“Dangerous kasi pag (because if) the head of the state will, dapat yung statement niya is hindi talaga ma-taken out of context (his statement should not be taken out of context),” Nograles said.
“Ang sinasabi niya lang, yun na nga meron na tayong (What he’s saying is there already a) diplomatic protest let’s take the procedure take its course.
Nograles, meanwhile, assured the fishermen that government will step up in its efforts to provide them with assistance.
If proven that the Chinese vessel’s ramming and abandonment of the Filipino fishing boat is intentional, Panelo floated the possibility that the Philippine authorities could file charges against the Chinese crew in a Philippine court.
“If the findings are both with respect to the fact of abandonment, e talagang dapat managot sila dun at merong mekanismo doon (they should be held liable and there is a mechanism for that),” Panelo said.
“We can sue the offending vessel sa ating bansa, dito sa hukuman natin (in our country, here in our courts). Reckless imprudence resulting to damage of property,” he added
For the meantime, Panelo said the Duterte administration will await investigation results of both Philippine and Chinese authorities and find ways to reconcile their differences.
Quoting Duterte in his speech on Monday, Panelo said “the Chinese have the right to be heard.” (PNA / )