MANILA - The 22 Filipino fishermen abandoned at sea by a Chinese crew near the Recto (Reed) Bank received P50,000 each Friday from visiting Vice President Leni Robredo, as the government continued to face heavy criticism for allegedly forcing them to change their account of the incident.
The fund was sourced from the Robredo's Angat Buhay program "that links the private sector to local government units" to address urgent community needs.
Robredo arrived in the coastal town of San Jose in Occidental Mindoro around 10 a.m. and met with 14 fishermen who were part of the F/B GEM-VER's crew inside the home of boat owner Felix Dela Torre.
Robredo declined requests for interviews, saying she traveled to the area only to extend assistance and to talk with the fishermen affected in the latest friction between Manila and Beijing in disputed waters.
The vice president earlier said that the Chinese vessel that rammed the Filipino fishing boat must be tried before Philippine courts.
"Justice for the 22 Filipino fishermen requires that our courts assume jurisdiction," Robredo said in a statement released earlier this week.
"This is the time where we expect our leaders to be true to their oath and speak, act, and do what is needed to defend the dignity of our nation, and every Filipino," she said.
Several fisherfolk who attended the hour-long meeting with the vice president said they appreciated her visit more than their talk with Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who had downplayed the incident.
Boat captain Junel Insigne earlier said he was dismayed with their meeting with Cusi as the Energy chief asserted that the incident was not intentional.
President Rodrigo Duterte had also dismissed the incident as a maritime accident.
According to Insigne's wife, she felt that Robredo was more sincere because the vice president made an effort to visit each of their homes and get to know their families.
"Tinanong niya (Robredo) kung paano ang buhay namin, paano kami nabubuhay," said Lani Insigne, wife of the boat captain.
(She asked about our lives, how we get by day by day.)
Mrs. Insigne said Robredo even had a bite of the lumpiang isda (fish rolls) she cooked for lunch.
"Masarap daw," she said, smiling.
(She said it was good.)
"Natutuwa lang na kahit kami ay ganito ay pinuntahan yung bahay namin ni Vice President. Hindi namin akalain na vice president ay pupunta sa bahay namin," she said.
(We are just happy that the Vice President visited us even if our house is just like this. We never thought that a vice president would even come here.)
As of June 21, Robredo is the highest government official to visit the fishermen.
Last week, Cusi and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol met the GEM-VER crew in separate occasions, and gave them new fishing boats, sacks of rice, and other food items.
The fishermen also received cash assistance, livelihood packages and scholarships for their children.
- with a report from Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News