MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte did not echo China’s position on the ramming of a Chinese vessel of a Filipino fishing boat in Reed Bank (Recto Bank) last week, his spokesperson said Wednesday, as the chief executive drew flak for downplaying the incident.
Duterte on Monday called for calm in his first public comments about the June 9 incident. He described the sinking as a “maritime incident” and should not be blown out of proportion.
His critics pointed out that his words were similar to that of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, who described the ramming as an "ordinary maritime accident.”
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte and the Chinese government did not discuss what would be their initial statements on the issue.
“Not really echoed. Kung nagkataon man na similar ang kanilang initial finding, it doesn’t mean na may usapan sila na ganon,” Panelo told ANC.
(Not really echoed. If their initial findings were the same, it doesn’t mean they talked about it.)
Panelo said the public should just wait for the result of the investigation which would determine whether the ramming was intentional or not. He added it’s also important to discuss how the Chinese just abandoned the Filipino fishermen at sea.
Wilfrido Villacorta, former Philippine ambassador to Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said the incident "will have a destabilizing effect to our society" and affect China's image.
As the Philippine government cast doubts on the accounts of the Filipino fishermen, Villacorta said, "between the Chinese and the Filipino, I’ll take the side of my fellow Filipinos."
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 Agence France-Presse