MANILA - Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima on Wednesday accused President Rodrigo Duterte and his officials of treason over their remarks on the alleged ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Reed Bank (Recto Bank).
Duterte had described the incident in waters disputed by China and the Philippines as a "maritime incident" that should not be blown out of proportion.
In a dispatch from her detention cell, De Lima said Duterte’s pronouncement was a “treasonous defense of a foreign aggressor” never committed since the Japanese puppet government of President Jose Laurel.
“But at least in the case of the Laurel puppet government, the foreign aggressor was already an occupying force pointing a gun at the Filipino officials,” De Lima said.
The senator said the Duterte government, on the other hand, “once again acted like a Chinese puppet government, at their own volition.”
“Unlike the Laurel puppet government, their treason is voluntary,” she added.
Top government officials such as Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, initially issued stinging statements over the incident.
However, after President Rodrigo Duterte called for calm on the matter, administration officials sought to downplay the issue.
The Filipino ship captain, Junel Insigne, claimed that the Chinese ship rammed their boat while the cook, Richard Blaza, was unsure whether the ramming was intentional, according to Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol.
Panelo had said the conflicting claims could cast doubts over the Filipino fishermen’s claim that they were rammed intentionally by the Chinese.
Speaking to ANC on Wednesday, Panelo also defended government officials' change of tune about the matter, saying they were presented with different sets of information since the ramming occurred.
De Lima, meanwhile, said Duterte’s warning of war in case the Philippines challenges China’s aggression “is his excuse for this treason.”
“In the past several days, Duterte has whined without end about the hopelessness of the Philippines as a nation. His treason is the logical conclusion of this frustration. Duterte is no longer invested in the Philippines, but in China,” she said.
“The Philippine national interest, as we know it, is now against his own personal interest and fortune. More than a traitor, Duterte is just a glorified carpetbagger, with loyalties to no one but himself.”