MANILA (UPDATE)—Two senators on Wednesday disagreed with Beijing's statement that the incident involving a Chinese ship and a Filipino fishing boat near Reed Bank was not intentional.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang on Monday said the incident was "only an accidental collision between fishing boats at sea."
In a statement, Sen. Richard Gordon urged China to admit its fault, citing an October 2011 incident in which a Philippine Navy warship accidentally rammed a Chinese fishing boat in the West Philippine Sea.
“It is not difficult to admit one’s fault,” he said. “Stating there were no reports of damage or casualties in the incident, the Philippine government immediately sent an apology to the Chinese embassy in Manila to avoid creating further tension. China could have done this, too.”
Gordon said China violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) when its vessel left behind 22 Filipino fishermen after sinking their boat.
"The issue is people are not supposed to be abandoned at sea. Whether it is an accident or intentional collision, is beside the point. The crux of the matter is you left the fishermen in peril of the sea," Gordon said.
"Under the UNCLOS, it is everybody’s duty to rescue people at sea whether it’s peacetime or wartime regardless of nationality. Whenever there is an incident at sea, the first responsibility is to rescue."
Gordon earlier said Manila could seek the extradition of the Chinese crew.
Sen. Nancy Binay, meanwhile, said the incident could not have been accidental.
“Mahirap paniwalaan na aksidente ’yung nangyari dahil maraming beses na itong nangyari di lang sa mga Pilipinong mangingisda, at alam ng ating Navy ’yan. Ang nakakalungkot lang, China's statements have overshadowed the testimonies and first-hand accounts of the crew," Binay said.
"Malinaw sa UNCLOS ’yung duty to rescue. We should call out the Chinese government for abandoning our fishermen. We should seek accountability. Kung tatanggapin na lang natin itong isang aksidente, we just showed the world how we take care of our people."
The Chinese embassy in Manila earlier said the captain of the Chinese ship tried to save the Filipinos but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."
A maritime law expert, however, said satellite data contradict China's claim.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday urged calm over what he described as a "maritime incident."
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said Duterte “left us heartbroken” with his remarks.
“He forgot to explore all resources available before exercising his last option of surrender,” he said.
The incident happened within the Philippines 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which is being claimed almost entirely by China.