MANILA, Philippines – One year has come and gone since Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver was rammed, sunk, and abandoned by a Chinese trawler in the West Philippine Sea but to this day, the 22 Filipino fishermen and Gem-Ver’s owners have yet to receive compensation from the Chinese.
Gem-Ver owner Fe dela Torre told Rappler that she and her husband Felix have not received any call or message from Philippine government officials who were supposed to help her family and the ship’s crew claim damages for losses related to the sinking of their fishing boat on June 9, 2019.
She and her husband no longer wait for help to arrive.
“Sa ngayon, wala pa po. Kung aasa naman kami sa ayuda, kailan pa po (We haven’t received anything. If we depend on help, when might that arrive)?” Fe told Rappler in an interview on Monday night, June 8.
The Dela Torres were referring to the compensation offered by the owner of the Chinese ship in an apology to the fishermen on August 28, 2019. After spending about P2.1 million to repair Gem-Ver, they had hoped any damages they could claim would stop their financial bleeding.
The apology was made on the day President Rodrigo Dutere was set to leave for China for an official visit, where he was scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.
At the time, government officials had said that they would help the Dela Torres and the Gem-Ver crew file a complaint, though this has yet to take place. Rappler has reached out to the Department of Foreign Affairs but has yet to receive a response as of posting.
“At the time na kailangan namin, sana nandoon sila (They should have been there when we needed them),” Fe said.
Tragedy at sea. One of the biggest crises to hit the Duterte administration, the sinking of Gem-Ver in Recto Bank (Reed Bank) has been one of the most heated issues in the West Philippine Sea since the Scarborough Shoal standoff in April 2012, that prompted the Philippines to file a historic case against China. The Philippines won that case.
The event, which left Filipino fishermen floating for hours at sea until a Vietnamese boat rescued them, likewise put a spotlight on Duterte’s policy on the West Philippine Sea and tested his vaunted strong ties with Beijing.
In November 2019, Gem-Ver returned to to Recto Bank for the first time since the sinking. But yet another tragedy struck the Dela Torres and Gem-Ver crew when Typhoon Ursula hit their town of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, on December 25, damaging the boat once more.
Only option. The Dela Torres said with or without compensation from the Chinese, they have no option but to find ways to cover growing expenses from another round of repairs.
“Sagaran at ubos na rin ang pag-asa (We’ve exhausted all hope),” said Fe.
Fe said Gem-Ver’s crew and her family had also been unable to make up for their losses since completing a second round of repairs on the boat. The crew and boat were unable to go on a fishing trip in the last few months due to lockdown measures prompted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Fe said it was only on June 8, when Gem-Ver was able to return to Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, where China continued to employ its aggressive tactics during the pandemic. – Rappler.com