MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte broke his silence on Monday, June 17, about the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese ship in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), dismissing this as a "maritime incident."
"'Yang nangyari diyan sa banggaan, that is a maritime incident. 'Wag kayong maniwala sa mga pulitiko na bobo, gusto papuntahin 'yung Navy. You do not send gray ships there, banggaan lang ng barko 'yan," Duterte said in a speech at the 121st anniversary celebration of the Philippine Navy.
(The collision was a maritime incident. Do not believe the stupid politicians who want us to send the Navy. You do not send gray ships there, that's just a collision of ships.)
"A maritime incident is a maritime incident. It is best investigated. And I do not now issue a statement because there is no investigation and there is no result. Then the only thing we can do is to wait and give the other party the right to be heard. Importante 'yan eh (That's important)," said Duterte.
The Philippine leader echoed the Chinese foreign ministry, which on June 13 downplayed the boat sinking as "an ordinary maritime traffic incident."
Earlier in his speech, Duterte blasted a "national official" who supposedly suggested sending gray ships or warships to counter China in the West Philippine Sea.
"Alam mo, gusto ko 'yan. Kung ako lang ang papipiliin, gusto ko action, but I am not in my boyhood age anymore," the President said. (You know, I like that. If I had a choice, I would like action, but I am not in my boyhood age anymore.)
In a veiled reference to China's military might, Duterte eventually cautioned against "nuclear war."
"We can never be ready in a nuclear war," he said. "In a nuclear war, kung bitawan lahat 'yan (if they release all that), Earth will be dried up, and Earth will be destroyed and that will be the end of everything."
This was Duterte's first statement on the issue, 6 days after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana first exposed it on Independence Day, June 12. The commander in chief spared China from criticism.
The usually outspoken Duterte had drawn flak for his days-long silence on the incident, unlike Vice President Leni Robredo and other officials who earlier condemned the Chinese vessel and questioned the Chinese government.
The sinking of Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver by Chinese ship Yuemaobinyu is a first in the decades-long dispute between Manila and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea.
This is also the most heated issue in the West Philippine Sea since the Scarborough Shoal standoff in April 2012, which prompted the Philippines to file a historic case against China months later.
Duterte's statement on Monday reflects his mindset that challenging China means going to war with the Asian giant.
Carpio said in July 2017: "The option for the Philippines is not either to talk to China or go to war with China. This is a false option, and shows a dismal lack of understanding of international law and international relations."
Carpio explained: "China itself does not want war because war will give the US an excuse to intervene in the South China Sea dispute, considering the existing Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty. China's strategy is to control the South China Sea without firing a single shot." – Rappler.com
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Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.