MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Is Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi a psychic?
He must think himself so, because after only a cursory inspection of the wrecked Filipino fishing boat that its 22-man crew said was rammed by a Chinese vessel on June 9 off Recto Bank, Cusi was confident enough to brush off the fishermen's charge that they were deliberately targeted and declare that it was all an accident.
The damage to the stern of FB Gem-Vir 1 didn't look extensive enough, he maintained. Therefore, the Chinese vessel's action couldn't have been intentional, he said.
"Kung talagang babanggain eh bakit yung… Kung sa kwan ba … sasabihin nating 'Napakabulok naman 'yung babangga, daplis lang, (If they intended to ram, we could say they were bad at it, as they only grazed the boat)" Cusi was quoted as saying in a GMA 7 report.
"I mean, kung meant to kill and meant to … Siyempre, ididiretso mo na." (If it was meant to kill, then they should have done it frontally.)
But if it was an accident, why did the Chinese abandon the Filipino fishermen floundering on the waters?
This time Cusi had no answer and said he would defer to any future investigation.
Cusi also chairs the Mimaropa's Cabinet Officers for Regional Development and Security and thus may be said to have a say on this matter.
Mimaropa is the Southern Tagalog islands in the Philippines.
But what business does he have playing, first, an authority on boat collisions at this point when no formal investigation has even been started, and second, an ersatz mind reader able not only to divine the intentions of the Chinese crew aboard their wayward vessel, but also to essentially excuse their actions?
Cusi's first duty as a Filipino, let alone as one of the highest officials of the land, is to lend support and compassion to the brutalised Filipino fishermen, and, more to the point, to call for justice on their behalf.
It is not his job to lawyer for the Chinese side and belittle the ordeal his countrymen had gone through.
Unless, of course, those are his marching orders?
Cusi's behaviour is, after all, part of what appears to be the tactic the Duterte administration has adopted to contain the ramifications of this potentially flashpoint incident: once again, appease Beijing by tamping down the outrage of the Filipino public - even if that means meekly accepting, and being made idiots by, that country's absurd justifications for the incident.
China first claimed it was a "normal maritime accident."
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Chinese ambassador had assured him - in a text message, as if this was the most trifling issue - that Beijing was "thoroughly and seriously" probing the matter.
The Chinese Embassy then released a statement offering its own detailed version of the incident - and it is such a ridiculous version that the Chinese government must really think Filipinos, and the international community, are stupid enough to swallow its bullshit.
The accident happened, according to the statement, when a fishing boat from Guandong, China, which was "berthed" at the vicinity of Recto Bank, was "suddenly besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats."
As it tried to evacuate, its steel cable supposedly bumped into the Filipino fishing boat, which then "tilted and its stern foundered."
"The captain (of the Chinese ship) then tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats," the statement continued.
After seeing that the Filipinos were rescued by other Filipino boats, the Chinese boat sailed away.
This, the statement added, proves that it was not a case of "hit-and-run."
Junel Insigne, captain of the FB Gem-Vir 1, debunks the Chinese story firstly with the fact that it was a Vietnamese boat that rescued them and not any other Filipino boat nearby; and secondly with the unassailable force of logic: "Lumubog nga kami, kami pa ang aatake?" (We went under, how could we be the attackers?)
Insigne, as of this writing, has backed out of a meeting with President Duterte in Malacañang, reportedly on the advice of his wife.
They have reason to be wary: Beijing's fudging, twisting and lying about this issue has only been aided by the deafening silence of the President, more than a week since the incident.
Worse, when the 22 fishermen were rescued, shameless administration lackeys made the still-traumatised fishermen pose for the camera with the Duterte fist-bump salute, right on the rescue boat.
Insigne, no doubt, would have been asked to do the same in Malacañang.
He and his hapless colleagues are good enough for a propaganda photo op, but as for their tale of woe? As Cusi put it, "daplis lang(It was only a graze)."
The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.