INDEPENDENT Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former Philippine National Police chief, said Tuesday, June 18, that President Rodrigo Duterte "forgot" to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States.
Lacson said he was not praying for World War III, but having the US Pacific Fleet in the West Philippine Sea would make China "feel the balance of power in that area".
Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, which Lacson described as an "effective weapon" in the Philippine arsenal, both the US and the Philippines are obliged to respond if any of their vessels are attacked.
"No less than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said as much very recently - that the US and the Philippines have an obligation under such treaty to respond accordingly if a vessel belonging to either party, military or civilian is attacked in the West Philippine Sea which according to him is within the area of the Pacific," the senator said in a statement issued Tuesday, June 18.
In a Twitter post earlier in the day, Lacson said the President's first public comment on the Recto Bank incident left him heartbroken.
"He (Duterte) forgot to explore all resources available before exercising his last option of surrender," Lacson said.
Duterte, in his first public comment on the incident, downplayed it as a maritime incident and warned against creating tension in the South China Sea.
Opposition senators also expressed dismay over Duterte's stance.
"Your statement on the Recto Bank hit-&-run incident reveals a lot. Thank you for confirming who you truly are, Mr. Pres: violent & cruel towards the poor, foul-mouthed & obscene to women & democracy advocates, but feckless & spineless before China. Shame," Senator Ana Theresia "Risa" Hontiveros said in her own Twitter post.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, who is also president of the Liberal Party, asked why the administration gave more weight to the claims of China rather than the account of the Filipino fishermen and the Philippine Navy.
"Sino na ang aasahan na magtatanggol sa maliliit at mahihirap nating mga kababayan kung ang namumuno mismo ay kampi sa kabila? Gobyerno ba natin itong naririnig ko o mga kinatawan at ahente ng China?" he said in a statement.
(Who can we call on to defend our poor countrymen if the administration favors the other side? Is this our government or a representative or agent of China?)
Pangilinan said that "no matter the many versions of what happened the Chinese embassy issues, the indubitable fact remains: Filipino fishermen were left stranded at sea and could have died if not for the rescue of Vietnamese fishermen."
He said he "could not sense even a modicum of good faith from the Chinese."
"People, especially neighbors, do not need to be friends to feel compassion and empathy after seeing a group of fishermen helplessly swimming for their life after encountering what the Chinese called an 'accident'," Pangilinan said.
"The Chinese government claims they have been in talks with Philippine officials several times, yet, the issue appears not to move forward as it continues to deny responsibility for the near-death experience of the Filipino fishermen," he added.
The Recto Bank incident refers to an allision between Filipino fishing boat F/B Gemver and a Chinese purse seine vessel on June 9, 2019.
The Filipino boat, which was anchored near Recto Bank, sank after it was hit by the Chinese vessel. Recto Bank is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, but is being claimed by China too.
The Chinese left 22 Filipino fishermen in distress at sea. The Filipinos were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat about an hour later.
The Chinese, in a press statement on June 14, said they had accidentally struck the Filipino boat while trying to "evacuate" after allegedly being besieged by 7 to 8 Filipino boats.
The Chinese also said they did not rescue the Filipino fishermen because they were afraid of being besieged by the Filipinos. (From a report of Ryniel Berlanga/SunStar Philippines)