Panelo ‘lawyering for China’ on Philippine boat sinking incident, says Lacson

Camille Elemia
Panelo ‘lawyering for China’ on Philippine boat sinking incident, says Lacson
'Parang ang mindset niya, defense counsel na nag-e-enter ng appearance for China if he was in a courtroom,' says Senator Panfilo Lacson of Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo

MANILA, Philippines – President Spokesperson Salvador Panelo seems to be “lawyering for China” on the Philippine boat sinking incident in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Wednesday, June 19.

Lacson based his observation on statements made by Panelo who, the senator said, seemed bent on punching holes in the accounts of the 22 fishermen who manned the boat sunk and abandoned by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank (Reed Bank) on June 9.

“Kaya nga ang first impression ko, parang he is acting like the defense ministry of China or naglo-lawyer siya sa Chinese crew kasi hinanapan niya ng butas ang mga fishermen,” Lacson said of Panelo, who is also Chief Presidential Counsel.

(That is why my first impression was he is acting like the defense ministry of China or that he is lawyering for the Chinese crew because he is was looking for loopholes in the Filipino fishermen’s accounts.)

“’Yung statement na nakakita agad siya ng butas doon sa pahayag ng mga fishermen…. Parang ang mindset niya, defense counsel na nag-e0enter ng appearance for China if he was in a courtoom (His statement that he immediately found a loophole in the account of the fishermen…. His mindset seemed to be like he was the defense counsel, entering an appearance for China if he was in a courtroom),” he said. 

Panelo had said that the supposed conflicting information on the sinking of the Gem-Ver fishing vessel cast doubt on the claims of the Filipino fishermen, whose account of the incident matched that of the Vietnamese  crewmembers who rescued them. (READ: Vietnamese account matches Filipino fishermen’s story)

Asked if there was a cover-up on the part of the Asian giant, Lacson said, “Initially, rightly or wrongly, ‘yan ang impression because ang account na binigay nila taliwas sa sinasabi ng mga fishermen (that’s the impression because their account is contrary to what the fishermen are saying).”

China earlier claimed the Chinese vessel was “besieged” by 7 to 8 Philippine boats, and that this kept it from rescuing the fishermen, which was disputed by the fishermen as well as a maritime expert who provided satellite data on the area of the incident at the time. China later omitted this claim in its latest official statement on the incident.

Lacson and other senators earlier expressed disappointment over President Rodrigo Duterte’s dismissive statement on the issue, as the Chief Executive called it a “little maritime incident.” 

The senator said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s new statement that the sinking of the boat was “just an accident” was expected, following Duterte’s statements on the issue. China itself had described it as an “an ordinary maritime traffic accident.”

Lacson said it was not surprising for a Cabinet member like Lorenzana to change his tune on the incident. The defense chief initially condemned “in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew.”

What do you expect from a Cabinet member? Nagsalita na ang Pangulo. ‘Pag kinontra mo pa ang Pangulo – kasi siya (Lorenzana) nagsalita and it triggered this whole controversy dahil siya rin ang nagsabi na intentional (The President has already spoken. If you contradict the President – because he [Lorenzana] was the one who talked about it and it triggered the whole controversy because he was the first one to say the ramming was intentional), the senator said.

Junel Insigne, the captain of the Philippine boat, earlier expressed disappointment over the statements made by government officials, saying Duterte government had downplayed their ordeal. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com