The tragic collision between the ships of China and the Philippines last year was recently recalled online after Palace downplayed another incident, this time, between a local fishing boat and a Hong Kong-flagged ship last Sunday.
Last Sunday, Philippine rescuers launched a search for at least 14 Filipinos who went missing after their boat called Liberty 5 crashed against Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship called Vienna Wood in waters off the coast of Occidental Mindoro province.
Based on reports, the Vienna Wood was on its way to Australia when it collided with Liberty 5.
Local authorities later spotted the local fishing boat’s capsized hull at around 10 am on Sunday. There were no signs of the 12 Filipino crew members and two passengers who had been on board the vessel.
Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo said the captain of Vienna Wood also reportedly called for help “a few hours later” and then the PCG escorted its ship to land.
Philippine rescuers are still looking for the missing fishermen.
During the virtual press briefing on Tuesday, a reporter asked presidential spokesperson Harry Roque about the possible implications of the incident to the relations between the Philippines and China, and with the rest of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“Wala po, banggaan iyan sa ating karagatan so iriresolba po iyan sang-ayon po sa batas ng Admiralty na tinatawag natin,” Roque responded.
“Alam ninyo po, ang rules ng banggaan sa karagatan, parehong-pareho rin po iyan ng rules na ina-apply kapag may banggaan sa kalye. So wala naman pong malaking implikasyon iyan. Banggaan lang po iyan,” he added.
Roque also emphasized that the concern was “governed by Philippine law” because it happened within the Philippine territorial waters.
“There is no international law application here other than foreign flagships can sail through under the concept of innocent passage. But as far as the accountability is concerned, mga Pilipino po ang magdidesisyon diyan dahil ang banggaan po ay nangyari po sa ating karagatan,” he said.
This statement, particularly Roque’s remark of “banggaan lang,” earned the ire of several Filipinos on social media as they perceived this a lack of compassion to the missing Filipino fishermen and their families.
“14 mangingisda ang nawawala, banggaan lang?” one Twitter user said.
Recalling the Reed Bank tragedy
Some Filipinos, meanwhile, compared Roque’s response to that of the Reed Bank collision which nearly killed 22 Filipinos in the middle of the South China Sea in June last year.
At midnight of June 9 last year, a Chinese fishing boat allegedly rammed and sunk a Filipino trawler named FB GEM-VER 1 while it was parked near the Reed Bank, an area within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
The Filipino ship’s captain Junel Insigne and the rest of his crew were then allegedly abandoned by the Chinese boat in the middle of the sea.
Fortunately, a Vietnamese ship, which happened to be near the area, rescued them despite being foreigners from another vessel.
Facebook page Reklamador posted a side-by-side image of screenshots of President Rodrigo Duterte’s response to the tragedy in 2019 to the similar response of Roque early this week.
A Twitter user also posted a similar side-by-side image of the Filipino boats sunk by foreign vessels.
“Hanggang kailan tayo magiging alipin sa sarili nating bayan?” the user said.
Last year, a Chinese vessel rammed into FV GemVer 1 & left our fishermen floating at sea.
Yesterday, a Chinese vessel collided with FV Liberty 5 at Occidental Mindoro & as of today, our 14 fishermen are still missing.
Hanggang kailan tayo magiging alipin sa sarili nating bayan? pic.twitter.com/iNXxi9ecrd
— MJC ⚖ (@banana_mjc) June 29, 2020
Despite the damage to the fishermen’s livelihood, Duterte dismissed the FB Gem-Ver 1 incident as just another “maritime accident.”
“‘Yang nangyari diyan sa banggaan, that is a maritime incident. ‘Wag kayong maniwala sa mga pulitiko na bobo, gusto papuntahin ‘yung Navy. You do not send gray ships there, banggaan lang ng barko ‘yan,” Duterte said last year.
“A maritime incident is a maritime incident. It is best investigated. And I do not now issue a statement because there is no investigation and there is no result. Then the only thing we can do is wait and give the other party the right to be heard. Importante ‘yan eh,” he added.
Criticisms from a fisherfolk group
Progressive fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) slammed Roque’s remark and argued that the event was a “hit-and-run” and not just a simple collision.
“What happened in the early morning hours of June 28 was not a simple collision, but a hit-and-run resulting in the 14 fishing crew missing up until now,” Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also urged the government to prioritize investigating the matter for the welfare of the missing Filipino fishermen.
“Fourteen of our Filipino fishermen are missing. Our priority should be to find them, fully investigate, and not to further protect China’s interests,” she said in a statement.
“We shouldn’t soft-pedal these incidents when we know this is not the first time that Chinese vessels have put Filipinos in danger,” she added.