MANILA, Philippines – Cabinet members reached no major decision after meeting on Monday afternoon, June 17, on the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Two Cabinet clusters, one headed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and another led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, held a meeting on the issue early Monday afternoon. Duterte was not present during the meeting as he had other appointments.
In a statement after the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol "has been designated chairman of the government response focused primarily on assisting the 22 affected fishermen."
Piñol earlier dismissed the sinking of a Filipino boat near Recto Bank (Reed Bank) as "just a simple maritime incident" blown "out of proportion."
Piñol's co-lead is Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.
Cusi earlier downplayed the boat sinking as an "accident," and that F/B Gem-Ver encountered a minor mishap – in his words, "daplis lang" (just a graze).
"Piñol has been directed to tap all available government resources – including assistance from DA (Department of Agriculture) and DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) – to assist our countrymen, with components of the support package to come from other government agencies," Nograles said.
Nograles also said a "strongly-worded diplomatic protest" was handed to China's deputy chief of mission on June 13. He did not give details.
The meeting comes as the usually outspoken President Rodrigo Duterte draws flak for his silence on the Recto Bank incident.
Read the full statement of Nograles below, as provided to Malacañang reporters:
STATEMENT BY CABINET SECRETARY KARLO ALEXEI B. NOGRALES
17 June 2019
Earlier this afternoon, a joint meeting of the Economic Development and Security, Justice, and Peace clusters was held to tackle issues relative to the West Philippine Sea/Reed Bank incident that resulted in the sinking of the fishing boat F/B Gem-Vir 1 that endangered the lives of its 22-man Filipino crew – who were later fortuitously rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
The objective of the meeting was twofold: the protection of our countrymen and the exercise of our nation's rights in our Exclusive Economic Zone.
Initial action has already been taken, with the filing of a strongly-worded diplomatic protest that was handed over to the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Chinese Government on June 13.
Aside from this, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Region IV-B Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) have conducted initial inquiries regarding the incident to determine the extent of the liabilities involved and in order to ascertain the most effective legal means to obtain justice for our countrymen. These efforts will be complemented by further investigations to be jointly led by the Maritime Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard.
In the meantime, DA Sec. Manny Piñol has been designated Chairman of the government response focused primarily on assisting the 22 affected fishermen, with Region IV-B CORDS DOE Sec. Alfonso Cusi as as co-lead. Sec. Piñol has been directed to tap all available government resources – including assistance from DA and DSWD – to assist our countrymen, with components of the support package to come from other government agencies.
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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.