MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – From condemning a Chinese vessel "in the strongest terms" for sinking a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is now unsure if the vessel was Chinese in the first place.
In an interview with reporters in General Santos City, Lorenzana said the government will still conduct an inquiry into whether a Chinese vessel sank the Philippine boat.
"We are just relying on the statement of the fishermen that the ship that hit them was a Chinese ship," Lorenzana said on Thursday, June 13.
"'Yun lang ang basehan ko nung sinabi kong Chinese 'yon ha. Now we will still get an inquiry, tanungin natin 'yung Vietnamese, ang Vietnam side, Chinese side, kung meron silang report na gano'n," he added.
(That was my only basis when I said it was Chinese. Now we will still get an inquiry, we will ask the Vietnamese, the Vietnam side, the Chinese side, if they already have such a report.)
When pressed to confirm if the government has identified that the vessel is Chinese, Lorenzana said, "We were only basing our report to the media, on the statement of the fishermen, kasi hatinggabi nangyari (because it happened at midnight)."
Lorenzana was also confident this will not affect a big part of Philippines-China relations.
"We will find out kung ano ang aksiyon nila, kung it will be proven that it is a Chinese vessel, then we will find out what are their actions," he said.
(We will find out their actions. If it will be proven that it is a Chinese vessel, then we will find out what are their actions.)
Hours after this General Santos interview, Lorenzana told Rappler in a text message that the government is sticking to his earlier statement that a Chinese vessel sank a Philippine boat. But he is now open to the possibility that this can be disproven. "No, we stick to my previous declaration until proven otherwise," Lorenzana said.
This is a far cry from Lorenzana's statement on Wednesday, June 12, when he 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."
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also said the sinking of the Philippine boat was "far from accidental." AFP Western Command Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Penetrante said there was "intentionality."
Based on Lorenzana's earlier statement, Malacañang on Thursday called on China to sanction the Chinese vessel that sank a Philippine boat, while Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr tweeted that he filed a diplomatic protest against China. The Department of Foreign Affairs, however, could not offer more details about this protest.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, on the other hand, dismissed the boat sinking as an "ordinary maritime accident," as he cautioned against "irresponsibly politicizing" the situation, according to Reuters. – Rappler.com
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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 email@example.com.