Duterte spox called out for ‘insensitive’ remarks to fisherman amid West Philippine Sea row

May 14, 2021 - 2:25 PM
China militia ships Whitsun reef
Some of the about 220 Chinese vessels reported by the Philippine Coast Guard, and believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, are pictured at Whitsun Reef, South China Sea, March 7, 2021. (Philippine Coast Guard/National Task Force-West Philippine Sea/Handout)

President Rodrigo Duterte‘s spokesperson claimed that Duterte’s policy gave fishermen an opportunity to have food on the table.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark in response to the grievances of Carlo Montehermezo, the fisherman who asked a question during the 2016 presidential debates.

Montehermezo earlier disapproved the chief executive’s jet ski joke amid the continued Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea.

In response this was what Roque said in a press briefing:

“Well Carlo, ano, unang-una, ang tanong, nakakapaghanapbuhay ka ba ngayon? Hindi ba totoo na noong panahon nung administrasyong Aquino, kung saan tayo po ay pala away sa Tsina, eh ‘yun po ‘yung panahon na hindi kayo nakapangingisda sa [Scarborough]?

So ‘wag po natin kalilimutan, kung hindi nagbago ang polisiya natin sa Tsina… hindi pa rin ko kayo makakapangisda… Sino po ngayon ang nagbigay ng pagkakataon sa’yo ngayon, Carlo, na magbigay ng pagkain sa hapagkainan? Hindi po ba ang polisiya ng presidente? At hindi ang polisiya na ayawin ang Tsina?” 

ABS-CBN journalist Pia Gutierrez, whose news outlet sought for Montehermezo’s latest comment on Duterte’s “jet ski joke,” then echoed the fisherman’s grievances and said that their situation has not changed.

“Ayon sa kanya sir, wala raw pong nabago sa sitwasyon nila do’n sa Scarborough Shoal kasi nando’n pa rin daw ho ang Chinese Coast Guard, tinataboy pa rin daw po sila doon… Pinagtyatyagaan na lang daw nila kung ano ‘yung makuha nila doon sa gilid ng Bajo de Masinloc,” she said in the briefing.

“Well ang punto po eh dati hindi sila makapunta ng Bajo de Masinloc. Malaking bagay po iyon. ‘Wag po natin i-deny ‘yan… Ngayon, malinaw na na ang inyong pangingisda is a matter of right,” the spokesperson answered.

However, some Filipinos pointed out that the 2016 United Nations arbitral ruling has already favored the country and quashed China’s “nine-dash line” boundary.

“May arbitral award tayo, foreign policy pa ni Duterte maka-China, tapos hina-harass pa rin pala tayo ng China?” a Twitter user responded to Roque’s comment.

“Malaking bagay na sa gilid sila nakakapangisda only? Utang na loob pa natin ngayon?” another online user commented.

Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc lies within the Philippines’ continental shelf and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It is located 220 kilometers west of the Zambales province.

In 2012, a standoff occurred between Manila and Beijing, which eventually prompted the former to file a case for international arbitration before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The Philippines won the case in July 2016 as the ruling recognized Manila’s sovereignty rights in the West Philippine Sea and invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims in the entire South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Roque’s comments to Montehermezo landed on local Reddit’s trending list where some Filipinos called him out for being “insensitive” to the fishermen’s plight amid the territorial sea row.

“Maganda diyan sumama si Roque sa kanila mangisda para (malaman) niya sitwasyon nila,” a Reddit user wrote. The comment has earned five upvotes on the platform.

“The level of insensitivity is (high). I mean I am lost for words,” commented another online user.

“It sounds like the meme “‘but did you die tho?”‘ ‘Sir, wala kaming makain.’ ‘But did you die tho?'” a different Filipino reacted.

Social media users previously aired concerns over Montehermezo’s case after he shared his disapproval of Duterte’s “pure campaign joke” comment.

Some said Montehermezo’s words made him vulnerable to attack by China policy supporters while others fear he might be bullied by the president’s die-hard supporters

RELATED: Fisherman’s disapproval of Duterte’s ‘jet ski’ joke could get him harassed, social media warns

In April 2016, Montehermezo asked presidential candidates what they could do to protect fisherfolks like him amid the harassment of China in the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte was the one who answered the question, where he said that he would talk to China.

If the dialogue will not succeed, the then-presidential bet said, he would go to Scarborough with the help of the Philippine Navy, ride a jet ski and then plant the Philippine flag in the area.

Years later, Duterte admitted that his answer was just a “pure campaign joke” but critics said that ordinary Filipinos like Montehermezo had trusted him to uphold the country’s sovereignty rights in the West Philippine Sea, especially since their livelihood depends on it.

Montehermezo also shared that he felt betrayed by Duterte’s admittance that his campaign vow was a mere joke.

“Kaming mangingisda dito, masama loob namin. Joke-joke lang sinabi sa’min noon. Masama loob naming no’n ta’s ‘yun sinabi niya na inaasahan naming gagawin niya,” he said.

“Pero nung sinabi niyang joke-joke lang, joke-joke lang siya na naging presidente natin. Masakit. Nagpangako siyang ganon, tapos hindi niya tinupad,” the fisherman added.

RELATED: A fisherman’s question: How the ‘jet ski’ comment, now a joke, came about