Jun 17, 2019

For someone who swore almost three years ago to uphold the interests of the Philippines and Filipinos, President Duterte definitely exhibits disturbing behavior with his continued reluctance to engage China over the alleged ramming by a Chinese vessel of a fishing boat carrying 22 Filipino fishermen more than a week ago.

His decision to call off a Cabinet meeting to discuss the incident today only fans the flames of suspicion that he would rather steer clear of any act that would anger Beijing and President Xi Jinping.

Many have noticed his reticence as far as China’s aggressive acts against Filipinos, particularly poor fishermen whose only offense is operating within the country’s clearly defined Exclusive Economic Zone.

Consider in contrast his recent tirade against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the containers of toxic garbage smuggled from Canada to the Philippines. Or Mr. Duterte’s malignant and racist verbal attack against then US President Barack Obama in the early weeks of his presidency.

READ: Not just Canada, there are other foreign waste that needs to be sent back—Greenpeace

Making things worse is how some of the President’s men echo his attitude toward the plight of the fishermen.

12 of the 22 rescued fishermen aboard a Philippine Navy inflatable boat after being rescued. Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy

We bring here the efforts particularly of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi who, despite not being in the fishing boat anchored at Recto Bank during the alleged attack by the Chinese, insisted that the foreign vessel did not ram the Filipinos’ boat on purpose.

Cusi’s version has enraged netizens given the glaring details that the survivors gave representatives of the Philippine Navy. The fishermen said their boat was anchored around midnight of Jun. 9 and most of the crew were asleep when the much bigger Chinese vessel rammed their boat.

Some noted that the Chinese vessel turned on its light, as if to check the result of the attack, turned the lights off after seeing the Filipino boat smashed and sinking, and sailed away after that.

The fishermen also stressed that another fishing boat carrying Vietnamese nationals were the first to respond and rescue them hours after the attack.

The fishermen’s story also runs counter to the Chinese Embassy’s insistence that the Chinese vessel initially wanted to rescue the Filipinos but was discouraged by the presence of “seven to eight” other Filipino fishing boats menacingly hovering the area.

This detail, we believe, is the most ridiculous considering that Chinese boats, among them from the Chinese military militia, have consistently harassed our fishermen in our own fishing grounds.

Now comes Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, apparently assigned to douse the flames that the administration failed to quench, with another attempt to downplay what actually appears as a frustrated murder case.

Despite the incident’s serious diplomatic, maritime and possibly criminal implications, Piñol went on this morning to say President Duterte “should not be dragged into this issue” and dismissed it as a “simple maritime incident that should be handled at our level.”

Piñol, by saying this, effectively dismisses the Philippines’ attempt to call international attention to the harassment.

A closer look at the damaged part of the fishing boat Gemver. Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy

Days after media reported the incident, the Philippine Embassy in London informed the UN International Maritime Organization how the Filipino fishermen were “callously abandoned to the elements” by the Chinese vessel.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. even mentioned this move in a speech at an Independence Day reception hosted during the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva two days later. What does Piñol’s fresh statement make of the country’s effort to call global attention?

Alongside Piñol’s cavalier stance was the decision of the Filipino fishing boat’s skipper Junel Insigne not to meet with President Duterte today.

Who can blame Insigne when Malacañang continuously gives signals it does not favor his group’s version of events?

Imagine having to withstand several hours floating in open water while your damaged P2 million boat, assorted equipment and more than half-a-million pesos worth of fish harvested in the past several days float around you? Insigne probably realizes that meeting with concerned government officials who either dismiss your story or refuse to defend your case would be for naught.

Apart from efficiency at work, a government official is also expected to show compassion and objectivity, especially to marginalized sectors who come to seek help.

An official who has sworn allegiance to the flag and the people must listen well before he shoots down an oppressed person’s story.  This applies to any given situation that involves national interest.

Netizens at least, have the opportunity to express their dismay and disgust at the government’s nonchalance about this situation.  We hope the people would never abandon their vigilant stance, given the administration’s obvious Confucian subservience and its continuous neglect of its obligations to those it should serve.

Whatever President Duterte’s motives for his silence over China’s abuses, he should still be more worried about the people he has sworn to serve, instead of the “friend” who obviously has no clue about reciprocity and the true meaning of the word.

 

Header image shows the hit FB Gem-Vir 1. Photo courtesy of Philippine Coast Guard

Read more:

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No surprise: Duterte’s misogyny has trickled down to the rank-and-file

TAGS: china Duterte Recto Bank West Philippine Sea