MANILA - Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Thursday slammed as a "betrayal of our nation" government's statements on the Recto (Reed) Bank incident between a Filipino fishing boat and a Chinese vessel on June 9.
In a rare statement, Sereno said the Constitution demands "active and overt defense, not discombobulating statements" from the government after a Chinese ship sank a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea.
"Our fishermen of Mindoro and Zambales deserve protection in our own territory, under our own laws. Sinserong pagtanggol sa kanilang pagkatao ang kailangang marinig (We need to hear government's sincere defense of our fishermen)," she said.
"It is betrayal of our nation to give moral and political preference to the pronouncements of a foreign government or its people over that of our kababayans."
The Duterte administration has said it would not pursue legal action against Beijing and the crew of its vessel.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself on Monday called for calm over the sinking, which he dubbed as a "maritime incident."
He said the incident was not enough for the government to send Philippine Navy ships to the area.
"Dalawang bangka lang 'yan (That's just two boats). Now you go there and create a tension. I said, hindi ako g*go na presidente na papayag (I'm not a stupid President to allow that). If we have to die, we have to die in the correct way, and to die in dignity," Duterte said.
Malacañang has also cast doubt on the Filipino fishermen's recollection of the incident. The local fishers had said the Chinese ship rammed their boat, while the Chinese government called it an accident.
Following a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol on Wednesday in the fishermen's hometown San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, boat captain Junel Insigne said he was no longer sure if the Chinese vessel had intentionally rammed their boat.
Amid appeals for justice for the fishermen, Sereno said the public is not demanding that the country go to war.
"Ano pa ang halaga ng pamahalaan kung mismo ang mga kumakatawan nito ang maglalaglag ng mga interes ng mamamayan?" she said.
(What is the government for if its officials fail to protect the interest of the people?)
"Hinihingi ng taumbayan, lalo na ng kabataan ang katarungan para sa lahing Pilipino. Walang gusto ng giyera, ngunit wala ring gusto ng kaduwagan. Buhay at dignidad ng Pilipino, ipaglaban."
(The people, especially the youth, call for justice for the Filipinos. No one wants war but no one also wants cowardice. They want government to fight for the life and dignity of the Filipino people.)
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima, meanwhile, said government abandoned the fishermen for the second time when Piñol allegedly intimidated them to change their initial account of the incident.
"Halatang pinuwersa at diniktahan ang mga mangingisda na sumakay na lamang sa linya ng gobyerno," she said.
(It is obvious the fishermen were forced and dictated to echo the line of the government.)
"Ganito na kagarapal ang pagtataksil ng mga opisyales ng gobyerno. Naiwan ang mga mangingisda na malunod sa gitna ng karagatan pagkatapos palubugin ang kanilang bangka, muli silang iniwang nalulunod sa kataksilan ng sarili nilang gobyerno."
(This is how flagrant our officials' betrayal has become. The fishermen were left to drown at sea after their boat sank, they were again left to drown in their own government's betrayal.)
Piñol had denied the accusation, saying it was "unfair to well-meaning people in government."