A national group of fishermen on Sunday said the crew of the Philippine fishing boat that sank in the South China Sea after being hit by a Chinese trawler which then abandoned them should receive reparations and moral damages from the Chinese government.
Aside from the damage to the Filipino fishermen’s boat, the Gem-Vir 1, which cost around two million pesos (around $38,300), and their lost fishing equipment, the National Alliance of Small Fisherfolk Organisations (Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, or Pamalakaya) said they also lost at least tjree tonnes of catch.
Among the fish the Gem-Vir 1 crew caught during their 10-day trip, Pamalakaya said, were high-value species, including grouper (“lapu-lapu”) and red snapper (“maya-maya”).
The group estimated the value of the Gem-Vir 1’s catch at 540,000 pesos, which the fishermen lost when their boat sank.
‘What we need is justice’
“Aside from the damage to personal belongings and livelihood equipment, our fishermen have experienced moral distress and trauma,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.
“What we need is justice and [assurance] that it will not happen again by [removing] Chinese vessels [from] our seas,” Hicap said.
The Gem-Vir 1 was anchored near Recto Bank when it was hit by the Chinese vessel around midnight on June 9.
The Philippine boat sank, but the Chinese vessel, instead of stopping to rescue the Filipino fishermen, sailed away.
A Vietnamese boat, arriving at the scene hours later, rescued the Filipinos.
Filipino officials and lawmakers condemned the hit-and-run and demanded an investigation.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) filed a diplomatic protest on Wednesday and Malacanang – the official residence of the President of the Philippines – threatened to sever diplomatic relations with China if an investigation found out that the Philippine boat was intentionally hit.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Friday acknowledged that a Chinese trawler was involved, but denied the incident was a hit-and-run.
“The Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats,” the embassy said in a statement.
That’s a lie, Philippine senators said on Saturday, as the Chinese Embassy appeared to have forgotten that as early as midweek, it was already widely known that a Vietnamese vessel rescued the Filipino fishermen.
If indeed there were other Philippine boats in the area, how come it was a Vietnamese vessel that picked the Filipinos out of the water, Senator Risa Hontiveros said, pointing out an attempt at cover-up by the Chinese Embassy.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr was dismissive of China’s claim on Saturday.
“Proper official response to Chinese version – whether it changes or changes back or whatever – is simply: NOTED,” Locsin tweeted.
He revised his response in another tweet: “NOTED. NEXT. And we press on with our military’s version.”
The Philippine military had said the incident was a hit-and-run.
On Saturday, the Philippine Embassy in London brought the incident to the attention of the UN International Maritime Organisation, saying the Filipino fishermen were “callously abandoned to the elements” by Chinese mariners who rammed and sank their boat.
Locsin mentioned the incident in a speech at a reception hosted by the Philippines for its Independence Day celebration during the World Intellectual Property Organisation gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday.
“The hit-and-run incident in the South China Sea where a Chinese fishing vessel sank a Philippine fishing boat and left the crew to the mercy of the elements will test the fortitude of our commitment to independence,” Locsin said.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who calls Chinese President Xi Jinping a friend, has not said a word about the incident.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Sunday that the president called a Cabinet meeting for Monday to discuss the incident. But Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said later on Sunday that the meeting had been cancelled.
There were also reports that the president had invited Junel Insigne, the captain of the Gem-Vir 1, to a meeting in Malacanang on Monday.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said he had no information about a meeting between the president and the fishermen.
The 22 fishermen returned home to Occidental Mindoro on Friday with help from the Philippine Navy, which also towed home the badly damaged Gem-Vir 1.
In an interview on radio, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the security and the economic clusters were to meet on Monday, but he believed Duterte would not be able to attend it due to a full schedule for the day.
Nograles also appealed to the public not to be hasty in judging China over the sinking of the Gem-Vir 1. “Let us allow the Department of Foreign Affairs to tell the people if we are at the point where the other party is not cooperating. Let us go through due process,” he said.
But Vice President Leni Robredo, disappointed by the Chinese government’s statement on Friday, demanded that the crew of the Chinese trawler be held responsible and put on trial in Philippine courts.
In a strongly worded statement on Sunday, Robredo urged the DFA to demand that the Chinese government find the Chinese crew and recognise Philippine jurisdiction over the case.
‘Passive’ China policy
She also said the incident called for the government to shift its “passive” policy to a more assertive stance in upholding the Filipinos’ rights.
The Duterte administration’s failure to contest China’s encroachment on Philippine territory in the South China Sea would inevitably result in increasingly less Chinese respect for Philippine laws and sovereignty, Robredo said.
“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 [of] every Filipino,” the Vice President said.
Sen Franklin Drilon said China should make public the names of the captain and crew of the Chinese trawler to determine whether the vessel was part of China’s maritime militia, as suspected by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
“Certainly, if it was really a militia vessel, then it means that the [Chinese] government is directly involved [in the incident],” Drilon said. Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network