Palace softens, awaits 'facts' on Recto Bank incident

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA. Filipino fishing boat F/B Gemver sank after being hit by a Chinese vessel while it was anchored near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on June 9, 2019. (Philippine Navy Photo)

TAKING his cue from President Rodrigo Duterte, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo toned down his reaction to the Recto Bank incident and said he will wait for the final results of the separate investigations being conducted by the Philippines and China before making any statement.

He reiterated, however, that the Duterte government would never allow any affront to the Philippine sovereignty.

"As a matter of policy, we always say that we will not allow any assault on our sovereignty. That's the policy and it has not changed. Sovereignty is never subject of negotiation," Panelo said.

"[But] hindi ganoon kadali ang nag-iimbestiga (it's not easy to investigate). We have to wait. We cannot be pressuring both sides to make an immediate finding," Panelo said a couple of days after China denied the "hit-and-run" allegation.

Twenty-two Filipino fishermen claimed that a Chinese ship struck their fishing boat which was anchored near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on June 9, 2019.

The Chinese fled after the allision, leaving the Filipinos in distress at sea. The Filipino boat sustained major damage and sank, although it was refloated by Philippine authorities.

Malacañang on June 13 said it was "outraged" by the "inhumane and barbaric" abandonment of the Filipino fishermen, who were rescued about an hour later by a Vietnamese fishing boat.

A day later, in the evening of June 14, the Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a press statement denying the Filipinos' claim and said they were "besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino boats" at midnight of June 9.

China said the Filipino boat was struck while the Chinese boat was trying to evacuate. The Chinese crew did not help the distressed Filipino fishermen because they were scared that they would be besieged by the other Filipino boats. They did not leave the area, however, until the Filipinos were rescued, the embassy claimed.

President Duterte, whose foreign policy favors China, has been silent on the incident since it was reported on June 12.

Panelo said Monday, June 17, that the President would first await the "final" findings of the respective investigations of the Philippines and China before issuing a statement based on "premature" testimonies and acting on the issue.

"He (Duterte) is not silent. He is waiting for the facts to set in before he make[s] any declaration," the Palace official said in a press conference.

"Tama si Presidente. You cannot be responding kaagad. You have to know the facts. As a lawyer, yun ang training ng isang abugado. That is the position of the President ever since. Kahit anong incident, palagi iyang, 'Let me know the facts first.' Kahit anong incident, whether internal or international," he added.

(The President is right. You cannot be responding immediately. You have to know the facts. That's the training of a lawyer. That has been the position of the President ever since. Whatever the incident is, he always says, 'Let me know the facts first.' It applies to any incident, whether internal or international.)

Panelo said the executive is expecting a "fair" investigation from both Manila and Beijing.

"Merong version 'yung isa, meron ding version 'yung isa. So we have to know the facts, and then we can determine, malaman natin kung ano talagang dapat gawin. Until such time eh premature lahat 'yung mga statement ng iba," he said.

(One party has his version, and the other concerned party has different version. So we have to know the facts, and then we can determine the actions we need to do. Until such time, the initial statements are premature.)

"Oh definitely from both sides, [we're expecting fair investigation]. And then let's exchange kung ano ang findings natin. Malaman natin ang totoo. Ganyan talaga (And then let's exchange whatever the findings of each party are. We'll know the truth if we do that). When there is conflict, we have to know the facts," he added. (Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)


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