MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday lamented President Rodrigo Duterte’s response to the ramming of a Chinese vessel of a Filipino fishing boat in Reed Bank (Recto Bank) last week.
The typically brash Duterte on Monday urged calm in his first public comments about the June 9 incident, which has fed into outrage over China's expansive claims to the resource-rich waterway.
He said the sinking was just a “maritime incident” and should not be blown out of proportion.
Lacson said Duterte “left us heartbroken” with his remarks.
“He forgot to explore all resources available before exercising his last option of surrender,” Lacson said on Twitter.
Lacson, a former police chief, said the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States is “one yet untapped weapon.”
“I am not suggesting WW3 (World War 3) but at least it can make China feel the balance of power in the WPS (West Philippine Sea),” he said.
Lacson was referring to a 1951 pact between the United States and the Philippines which binds the two countries to aid each other in the event of an attack.
Following years of ambiguity over whether the US would come to the Philippines’ rescue in the South China Sea, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year gave assurances that “any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea” will trigger the pact.
Duterte has repeatedly warned that the Philippines would not win against China in a military confrontation.
"You do not send gray ships (Philippine Navy) there. Banggaan lang ng barko 'yan. Do not make it worse because that is a fertile ground for... Alam ninyong mga sundalo, miscommunication 'yan. Patay na. And we are not yet as ready, and we can never be ready in nuclear war, because in nuclear war, kung bitawan lahat 'yan, earth will dry up and we will all be destroyed," he said on Monday.
Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Duterte’s remarks on the incident “reveals a lot.”
“Thank you for confirming who you truly are, Mr. Pres: violent and cruel towards the poor, foul-mouthed and obscene to women and democracy advocates, but feckless and spineless before China. Shame,” Hontiveros said on Twitter.
Duterte has largely set aside the Philippines' row with Beijing over the key waterway to court trade and investments, but he has occasionally criticized China's actions there.
Opposition politicians as well as segments of the public and media charge that Duterte has bartered away Philippine sovereignty with little to show in return.
Manila has filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing as Duterte aides and critics alike blasted how the Chinese boat left the fishermen in the open sea.
However China has denied the claims, saying the trawler merely "bumped" into the Philippine boat and tried to rescue the fishermen but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats".
The incident occurred in Reed Bank, which is within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and far from China's nearest major landmass.
Vietnam and the Philippines have partial claims over the South China Sea, where Beijing has staked "indisputable sovereignty" and built artificial islands with military facilities and airstrips.
Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the area.
With a report from Agence France-Presse