MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it was "likely" that President Rodrigo Duterte would order the cutting or weakening of diplomatic ties with China if proven that the sinking of a Philippine fishing vessel was done intentionally by a Chinese ship.
"Then we will cut off diplomatic relations, 'yan ang unang ginagawa 'pag mayroon mga aggressive acts. First magdi-diplomatic protest. Kung hindi ka kuntento sa paliwanag nila at nakita natin na talagang sinadya, ibang usapan 'yun," said Panelo on Thursday, June 13, in a Malacañang news briefing.
(Then we will cut off diplomatic relations, that's the first thing that is done when there are aggressive acts. First, you file a diplomatic protest then if you are not content with their explanation and it was found to be an intentional act, then it's another matter.)
"Given steps undertaken by the President on the Canada trash issue, that's more likely...maybe even more severe. We don't know. I'll leave it to the President," said Panelo.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines had previously said there is little doubt that the Chinese vessel intentionally rammed the seacraft of 22 Filipino fishermen. (READ: Sinking of Filipino vessel 'a first' in Philippines-China row)
Its spokesman cited the finding that the Chinese ship did not stop after hitting the Philippine ship, and did not provide any assistance to the Filipinos inside.
Yet Panelo said the Palace is waiting for China's official response to the matter, including its explanation on whether the ramming was done on purpose.
He downplayed concerns that such Chinese actions on Filipino citizens continue to take place in the West Philippine Sea despite bilateral talks between the Philippines and China since 2017.
"It happens eh, what can we do if it happens? If they are still talking and some incidents – We don't know if it was done intentionally or if it was sanctioned by the Chinese government. We don't even know who owns it. Is it a private vessel, ship? We're calling their attention to do something about it," said the spokesman.
Panelo claimed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has filed a diplomatic protest on the collision, but could not give more details.
"The Secretary of the DFA has already filed a diplomatic protest, I think either today or yesterday," he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Malacañang called on the Chinese government to impose sanctions on the Chinese crew of the ship that did the ramming.
Panelo claimed President Rodrigo Duterte was "outraged" over the sinking, but admitted soon after that he never personally spoke with the Chief Executive about it. Duterte has yet to publicly speak about the incident.
But Panelo did say Duterte draws the line when an act of China in the West Philippine Sea results in physical harm to Filipinos.
"If Filipinos are hurt, that's another matter altogether," said Panelo.
He also said there is no need for the Palace to summon Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua about the ramming.
"I think we don't have to summon him. If he is listening now, he should explain," said Panelo.
He repeated a previous statement that the Duterte government would not object to US actions against China aggression in the South China Sea, as long as it helps maintain stability in the region. – Rappler.com
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Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.