MANILA -- The captain of a Filipino fishing boat rammed by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea lamented Tuesday President Rodrigo Duterte's remark that what happened was a simple maritime incident.
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.
"Nalulungkot po ako dahil kasi parang balewala lang po 'yung pagbangga sa amin, paano po kung maraming namatay sa amin?" GEM-VER Captain Junel Insigne told ABS-CBN News.
(I am sad because it seems that the move to ram us was just swept aside. What if many of us died?)
"Iyung gusto ko pong marinig sa kanya (Duterte), iyung talagang mapanagot talaga po iyung kapitan po [ng Chinese na barko]. Iyung mga Chinese fishing doon, sana mapaalis doon kasi baka sa sunod na taon po, baka mangyari ulit 'to," he added.
(I wanted to hear from him that the Chinese captain would be held accountable. I also hope the Chinese fishing there would be asked to leave because the incident may happen again next year.)
The Filipino vessel was anchored near Reed Bank -- claimed by both Manila and Beijing -- when it was hit by a Chinese vessel, causing it to sink and leaving 22 crewmen "to the mercy of the elements," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said.
Duterte said the sinking was just "a maritime incident."
"'Wag kayong maniwala diyan sa mga politiko, bobo, gusto papuntahin 'yung Navy... Banggaan lang ng barko 'yan. Do not make it worse," he said.
(Do not believe those stupid politicians. They want to send the Navy. That is just a collision of boats.)
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.
Insigne was supposed to meet Duterte on Monday, but the fisherman's wife called him over the phone, telling him to just go home after learning that a special Cabinet meeting about the collision was canceled.
The Filipino fishermen have stood by their story, saying the Chinese boat deliberately hit them and they then had to spend hours in the water awaiting help.
The crew were eventually picked up by a Vietnamese boat and brought home Friday aboard a Philippine Navy vessel.
Insigne said he and other fishermen will continue sailing off to Recto Bank after their boat is fixed.
"D'yan lang po kami kumukuha ng aming ipapakain sa pamilya po," he reasoned.
(That is the only source of food for our family.)
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".
In his comments on Monday, Duterte said he would await the results of an investigation.
"The only thing that we can do is wait and give the other party the right to be heard. That is important," he said.
The President's latest comments came after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week condemned the "cowardly action" of the Chinese boat while his spokesman blasted the abandonment of the Filipino crew as "barbaric".
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