MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday the recent incident between a Filipino fishing boat and a Chinese ship in the West Philippine Sea is not an attack on the country's sovereignty.
Duterte, who earlier described the allision of vessels at the Recto (Reed) Bank as a "maritime incident," said there was no need to raise a "convoluted argument" over the issue.
"It is not an attack on our sovereignty. Malayo 'yan (That's too far off)," he said in a speech during the oath-taking of Davao City officials.
This is the second time Duterte addressed the Recto Bank allision in public since the news first broke on June 12. The incident happened at midnight on June 9.
The President also noted that no one died from the incident as he called for an investigation.
"It is not a confrontation of armed men and machines or ships. Wala ngang namatay (No one even died)," he said.
"We consider it a maritime incident at (and) it should be investigated ng mga (by the) Coast Guard," he said.
Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were abandoned by a Chinese crew that hit their boat on June 9, prompting the Philippines to file a diplomatic protest. They were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
The Philippine fishers initially said the Chinese vessel had rammed their boat but later said they were no longer sure.
China, however, denied that its men abandoned the Filipino fishermen, saying the captain of the Chinese ship tried to save them but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."
Neither the Filipinos nor their Vietnamese rescuers spoke of seeing other vessels in the area at the time of the incident.
"Kung kasalanan nila, magbayad sila. Why do we have to go to a convoluted argument?" Duterte said.
(If it's their fault, they should compensate.)
Beijing on Thursday proposed a joint investigation into the incident but Manila, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, turned down the suggestion.
Duterte has been criticized as Beijing's lapdog for his soft stance on the Asian superpower's militarization efforts in the disputed South China Sea.
Since assuming the presidency in 2016, Duterte has refused to flaunt Manila's arbitral victory which invalidated Beijing's sweeping claims in the disputed waters.
The chief executive clarified that he is not afraid of China but rather fears the possible decimation of Filipinos in the event of war.
"Hindi ako takot sa China. Takot ako na baka walang kalaban, walang kalaban-laban tayo at baka tayo ang maubos," he said.
(I'm not afraid of China. I'm afraid that we might not be able to put up a fight and we might get decimated.)
Critics have, meanwhile, said they were only seeking China's accountability, not asking the country to go to war.