MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the national government to stop downplaying the collision of a Philippine fishing boat and a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship off Occidental Mindoro that left 14 Filipino fishermen missing.
Palace officials earlier said the incident early Sunday is not expected to dent ties between China and the Philippines as it was "only a collision."
"Are we going to let another Chinese vessel get away with committing a 'hit and run' against Filipinos inside our territorial waters?" Hontiveros said in a statement.
"We shouldn't soft-pedal these incidents when we know this is not the first time that Chinese vessels have put Filipinos in danger," she said, referring to how a Chinese vessel rammed onto Philippine fishing boat MV GemVer1 on June 9, 2019 off Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen at sea.
The incident happened amid unresolved disputes over the South China Sea, where China and the Philippines, along with four other claimants, have overlapping claims. The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the waters.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that China has acknowledged the "fault" of the Chinese vessel involved in the sinking of Gemver 1.
"China has responded. They have said that it is the fault of the Chinese vessel and the question is the damages. And now that you mentioned it, okay, I’ll bring it up again," Locsin told ANC.
Hontiveros also called on the Philippine Coast Guard "to leave no water or land unchecked in their search, rescue, and investigation."
"I appeal to the government to commit that we will be able to return these Filipino fishermen to their families as soon as possible," she said.
"Fourteen of our Filipino fishermen are missing. Our priority should be to find them, fully investigate, and not to further protect China's interests," she said.
"Pumanig naman tayo sa sarili nating mga mangingisda," she said.
(We should take the side of our fishermen.)