MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – A Chinese vessel sank a Philippine vessel in a collision in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and left the 22 Filipino fishermen on that boat "to the mercy of the elements," the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) announced on Wednesday, June 12.
“A collision between a Chinese and Filipino vessel (F/B Gem-Ver 1) was reported by Filipino fishermen near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine [Sea] on the evening of June 9, 2019. The collision sank the Filipino vessel,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement, citing information from Filipino fishermen.
The Philippine boat, the DND said, had 22 fishermen on board who were later rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel. The Philippine Coast Guard said the Philippine vessel came from Occidental Mindoro.
“We denounce the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for immediately leaving the incident scene abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen to the mercy of the elements,” Lorenzana said.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew. This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people," he added.
It's a first in the dispute between the Philippines and China, experts said. (READ: Sinking of Filipino vessel a 'first' in Philippines-China row)
Lorenzana called for an investigation and diplomatic action in response to the incident.
“We call for the conduct of a formal investigation on the matter and for diplomatic steps be taken to prevent a repeat of this incident,” the defense chief said.
The DND made the announcement as the Philippines celebrated Independence Day.
In a phone interview, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Captain Arman Balilo said the Filipino boat was anchored near Recto Bank (Reed Bank) after coming from Occidental Mindoro.
Balilo added that he had spoken with an "operator" of the Filipino boat, and the crewman apparently said the boat was not "fully submerged" after the collision.
The incident happened less than two months after Duterte's 4th visit to China, where Chinese President Xi Jinping supposedly expounded on the "importance of good neighborliness" and "proper handling" of issues in the West Philippine Sea during his bilateral meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
This is the latest reported incident of harassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea under the Duterte administration, despite supposed stronger ties with China.
In June 2018, members of the Chinese Coast Guard were filmed taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off the coast of Zambales.
In March, Malacañang said it could not do anything about the continued harassment of Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal, where the latter were still being shooed away by Chinese Coast Guard, as China had "more control" of the area. (READ: China shooing away PH fishermen from Panatag Shoal? What can we do – Panelo)
Recto Bank or Reed Bank is being considered as a possible source of natural gas in the country, but its exploration has been pushed back by the Philippines' dispute with China. It is among the areas being eyed for the Philippines' joint exploration with China.
A 2013 report of the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that Reed Bank could hold up to 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. – Rappler.com
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Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.