SEA Games

Malacañang refutes PH boat owner: ‘We can never be slaves’

Paterno Esmaquel II
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo dispels criticism that the Duterte administration is a slave to China

BOAT OWNER. F/B Gem-Ver owner Felix dela Torre speaks to reporters in an interview on June 15, 2019 in Barangay San Roque I, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo refuted the owner of sunken Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver, who said it feels like Filipinos “are slaves of China” who have no rights over its own waters.

Baka it’s a rhetorical question. Siyempre the response is we can never be slaves to anyone,” Panelo said in a media briefing Monday, June 17. (Perhaps it’s a rhetorical question. Of course the response is we can never be slaves to anyone.)

When asked if the Philippines is a slave to China specifically, Panelo responded, “Not to anyone nga eh. That includes every country in the world.” 

Fighting back tears, the owner of F/B Gem-Ver, Felix dela Torre, lamented the Philippines’ situation in an interview with reporters in Occidental Mindoro on Saturday, June 15.

Parang alipin po tayo ng China. Parang wala tayong karapatan sa sarili nating nasasakupan (It’s like we are slaves of China. It’s like we have no rights over our own territory),” Dela Torre told reporters.

Filipino fishermen said a Chinese ship intentionally rammed, sank, and abandoned F/B Gem-Ver on June 9. The sinking of F/B Gem-Ver happened in Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which belongs to the Philippines based on an international ruling, but is being claimed by China.

China, on the other hand, said that there was no “hit and run” incident in Recto Bank, and that the Chinese vessel was in fact “besieged” by 7 or 8 Filipino boats. 

Testimony of the Filipino fishermen and statements of defense officials like the Philippine Navy chief, as well as satellite data on the night of June 9, all disproved this counter-accusation by China.

Still, Panelo on Monday indicated Malacañang’s openness to believing China’s claim. 

Tingnan natin kung totoo ang contrary claim nila (Let’s see if their contrary claim is correct),” Panelo said. –

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at