MANILA - Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday called on President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw the Philippine ambassador and consuls in China following an incident where Chinese crewmen abandoned Filipino fishermen after a collision in the West Philippine Sea.
She condemned the acts of the Chinese crew as "grossly despicable and inhumane," saying "it was treacherous and intended to harm if proven that the reported collision was intentional."
"It stands to reason that if President Duterte can order the recall of our envoy and consuls in Canada over a dispute on garbage, he can do the same to defend and secure the lives of our fisherfolk and the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Hontiveros said in a statement.
She was referring to Duterte's decision in May to recall Philippine officials in Canada over its failure to take back an illegal trash shipment by a private firm. The matter was resolved after the container vans of garbage where shipped back.
In her statement, Hontiveros said the pullout of diplomats from China should be in effect until the Chinese vessel involved in the incident Sunday night has been identified and made to explain why it was in the West Philippine Sea.
The incident happened off Recto Bank in the waters encompassing the country's exclusive economic zone in the disputed South China Sea. China has expansive claims over the resource-rich waters.
A total of 22 Filipino fishermen were left "to the mercy of the sea," Hontiveros said, after their boat sank following the incident the military described as a "hit and run."
Hontiveros also sought was the identification and punishment of the captain and crew of the Chinese vessel. She said China should also "commit that such incidents will not happen again in the future."
The senator expressed support for Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's call for government to take diplomatic steps in light of the incident.
She said the President should "implement a foreign policy that fully complies with and upholds our international obligations, particularly the arbitral tribunal ruling on the West Philippine Sea."
"The sinking of our ship mirrors the state of Philippine sovereignty. President Duterte's continued subservience to China can no longer hold the country’s sinking sovereignty afloat, which plunges deeper into a dark, bottomless abyss everyday that he fails to enforce a foreign policy that truly represents our people's patriotic aspirations and interests. This cannot stand anymore," she said.
The landmark July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed body had invalidated China's 9-dash line rule over most of the South China Sea. China has ignored this and instead ramped up island-building and militarization efforts in the waters.
Duterte has been seeking enhanced ties with China amid the unresolved sea dispute, careful not to flaunt the Philippines' victory.
Recent visit exchanges between the President and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have seen the signing of multiple deals between Manila and Beijing, including loan agreements for infrastructure and pacts on trade and investment.
Earlier Thursday, the Philippine government urged China to sanction the Chinese crewmen involved in the incident.