THE Duterte administration has been pushed into an awkward position on the reported ramming by a Chinese boat of a Filipino-owned fishing vessel in Recto Bank (a.k.a. Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea.
Reed Bank, the globally known name of the area, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to the international tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands. But China covets it because it supposedly contains most of the oil and natural gas in the South China Sea (a part of which we call the West Philippine Sea).
F/B Gem-Ver was anchored in Recto Bank when the Chinese vessel intentionally rammed it, according to the 22 fishermen on board the fishing boat. Instead of rescuing them, the crew of the Chinese vessel left them on their own, they added. The fishermen were then rescued by a passing Vietnamese vessel.
Instead of condemnation from the usually combative President Duterte, he was silent for days before finally dismissing the ramming as a mere “maritime incident.” Interestingly, the Chinese leadership labeled the ramming as a mere accident. All these came after Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi claimed the ramming probably wasn’t intentional based on Gem-Ver’s damage.
It now looks like the Chinese and the Filipino leadership are one in downplaying the incident and making it appear like it is minor and therefore dismissible. What they failed to reckon is that this has added to the anti-China sentiment that could be the Duterte government’s undoing.
Cusi is not with the Department of Foreign Affairs. Why he was the one who went out to talk with the fishermen and then took the lead in making light of the distressed fishermen’s story is an interesting twist on this issue. But wasn’t the Chinese and the Philippine leadership pushing for a joint exploration of Recto Bank?
One major obstacle to that proposal is the refusal of China to acknowledge that Recto (or Reed) Bank is within the Philippines’ EEZ.
China is claiming ownership of almost the entire South China Sea through the so-called nine-dash line that it arbitrarily drew around a representation of the South China Sea on its map.
Cusi is therefore cozying up to China. Is he trying to make China look good by going against the fishermen, who are Filipinos like him, in order for the public to embrace China as a partner in the exploitation of Recto Bank’s resources?
But it is not Cusi alone who seems to be lawyering for China on this issue. Everybody, from the President to even Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who seems to have mellowed after his combative stance on the ramming issue, are downplaying the matter. That, though, is not unprecedented considering how past Philippine leaders lawyered for the United States every time Americans committed abuses in the Philippines.
That was before Duterte’s current embrace of China.
The anti-US imperialism activists’ favorite term for that is “subservience.” To the US before and now to China. I prefer to call that “puppetry.”