Defense analyst: Duterte cautious of strong statements concerning Recto Bank incident

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 20 2019 12:45 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte is cautious in making strong statements regarding the Recto Bank incident wherein a Philippine fishing boat was hit by a Chinese vessel, and left 22 Filipino fishermen floating in the West Philippine Sea last June 9, according to a defense analyst.

In an interview with DZMM, Associate Professor Chester Cabalza of the National Defense College of the Philippines said Duterte will not risk the current relationship of the Philippines with China over the Recto Bank incident.

Cabalza said the President will likely avoid precedents which may cause China to retaliate by pulling out all of its "security investments" in the Philippines.

"Dahil nasa level ng strategic partnership tayo with China, ayaw (ng gobyerno) mabulilyaso yung security investment binigay ng China," Cabalza said.

The defense analyst explained the past diplomatic and economic events between the two countries during the Aquino administration caused the Duterte administration to take a soft stance when it comes to China.

"Nuong nilaban natin yan (West Philippine Sea), may mga consequences. Bumaba yung Chinese tourism in the Philippines. Then there was this issue with (our) bananas, hindi tayo pwede mag-export sa kanila. At shinut-down yung mga ibang diplomatic activities natin," Cabalza said.

According to him, the Duterte's administration doesn't want to rock the boat.

"Huwag natin galawin yan kasi very maselan yung relationship natin in a security aspect with China. Kumbaga, di pa natin napeperfect yung ating temperament of our engagement with (China)," Cabalza said.

Duterte earlier said the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat was a "maritime incident".

The defense analyst, however, said the Chinese crew that were reportedly responsible for the sinking of Gem-Ver should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

"I've been always telling na gamitin natin yung strength natin which is the legal means," Cabalza said.

Cabalza mentioned he would suggest for the Philippines to follow Vietnam and Indonesia's maritime strategy in the West Philippine Sea, if not for the weak state of the Philippine naval assets. Vietnam and Indonesia are known for holding and destroying fishing vessels, particularly from China, which were caught in their respective waters.

"Kung titingnan, medyo malayo ang military might ng Vietnam at Indonesia compared sa atin. Vietnam has been going at it with China for thousands of years. Bagito pa tayo sa ganitong situation," Cabalza said.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila de Lima have called out Duterte and his allies for downplaying the sinking of the Filipino fishing vessel and taking a noticeable soft stance on China. 

De Lima even accused the President of “treasonous defense of a foreign aggressor.”