Editorial Notes

Filipino fishing boat sinking by Chinese vessel dubbed a 'very serious marine casualty': Inquirer

The damaged fishing boat Gem-Vir on the shore of San Jose town in the Philippines.
The damaged fishing boat Gem-Vir on the shore of San Jose town in the Philippines.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In its editorial, the paper questions remarks made by senior government officials in the incident involving a Chinese vessel and a Filipino fishing boat, with evidence somewhat contradicting their statements.

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Call them the Downplay Duo.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin and presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo have become the headliners of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration's merry jig to minimise the culpability of the Chinese vessel that rammed a Filipino fishing boat in Reed Bank on June 9, and conversely find ways to blame the Filipino fishermen for the incident.

Before the release of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Maritime Industry Authority (MIA)'s findings on the incident, Locsin was heard intoning on TV that the report "doesn't paint our fishermen in the brightest light".

His breathless description of the fishermen's alleged shortcomings: "There was no lookout, that the cook was out there on deck, everybody was asleep, and he looked up and there's a boat coming, and continued with whatever he was doing, and then he looked up again, (and realised) 'Oh, it's coming closer.' And then he looked up again and my God, it's gonna hit."

How stupid of these Filipino fishermen, was the subtext of Locsin's spin.

When the report was released, however, it was nowhere near as damning of his countrymen as Locsin had warned.

The report did say that the Filipino fishermen failed to have a lookout, employed an unlicensed chief engine officer, carried persons onboard in excess of the authorised capacity and had an expired license from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

But it also said the boat Gem-Ver 1 displayed anchor lights and white flashing light in compliance with maritime regulations.

Also, the weather was "fair with starry skies on a first quarter moon" and "visibility was slightly clear and the sea state was calm"; thus, it would have been impossible for the Chinese vessel not to see the Philippine boat.

 
 
 

Contrary to the President's characterisation, the PCG-MIA report described the sinking of the Gem-Ver 1 as a "Very Serious Marine Casualty due to the total loss of ship."

And while it did not say whether the "bumping" of Gem-Ver 1 by the Chinese trawler was deliberate, it noted that "the fact that the other fishing vessel hit the anchored fishing banca is an indication that they did not perform necessary actions prescribed in Rule 18 (a) to prevent the incident" - referring to rules under the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

The Chinese vessel, according to the report, "was found to have failed to take appropriate action to avoid the risk of collision and to render assistance to a vessel in distress."

The second part is the crux of the matter, and what most sticks in the craw: that the Chinese left the Filipino fishermen in distress - but not before it circled back, apparently to check whether the Filipino boat had indeed gone under.

"By maneuvering back and stopping approximately 50 meters away from FBca 'GEM-VER' with her fishing lights open, the other vessel can be considered to have direct knowledge of the distress situation," said the report.

But, according to the fishermen, the Chinese vessel then turned off its lights and fled the scene.

To that clear intent to harm, that unmistakable presence of malice in the Chinese vessel's action, Malacañang has chosen to respond with its by-now familiar songbook of appeasement and obsequiousness toward Beijing.

"Insofar as that incident is concerned, given the fact that Filipinos were placed in a dangerous situation where they could have been dead, then that's a serious marine casualty," said Panelo.

"But you cannot blow that up and make it into an international crisis. You know why? Because that was a Chinese vessel, that's not the China Republic."

True - but it was the Chinese government, through its foreign ministry, that immediately dismissed the incident as an "ordinary maritime traffic accident" - a line then adopted by Mr Duterte.

Panelo also said there would be no rush to file a case against China, especially since the Chinese vessel and its crew have not been identified.

Not true: In a statement, the Chinese Embassy identified the Chinese trawler as the Yuemaobinyu 42212 of Guandong province.

In that same statement, it peddled the lie, since retracted, that the Chinese vessel left the scene out of fear that it would be "besieged" by seven or eight other Filipino boats in the area (there were none).

The report from the Filipino side is out, and it assigns the blame chiefly to the Chinese vessel.

The likes of Locsin and Panelo, however, in service to the affinities of their boss, would have the Filipino public believe otherwise.

As netizens would say with a smirk, #alamnathis (roughly - we get it).

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.