MANILA, Philippines – As he led the send-off of 5 Vietnamese fishermen caught poaching in Philippine waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was "sorry" about the shooting incident that led to the deaths of two of their companions.
"I'd like to address our Vietnamese friends that we are one, we are Asians. I'm sorry for the incident. I hope it would never happen again," he said on Wednesday, November 29, during his speech at the send-off at Sual Port in Pangasinan.
With Vietnamese Ambassador Ly Quoc Tuan and the 5 fishermen in the audience, Duterte expressed confidence that such incidents "will not destroy our bond of relationship."
On September 22, 7 Vietnamese fishermen were spotted by the Philippine Navy fishing in waters around Sual, Pangasinan. During the chase that ensued, the Navy shot at the fishermen's vessels, supposedly leading to the deaths of two of the fishermen.
A month after, the Philippines apologized for the incident and promised to provide compensation for the deaths of the two Vietnamese nationals.
Still, the 5 surviving Vietnamese were charged for violating the Philippine Fisheries Code which prohibits foreigners from fishing within the country's exclusive economic zone. They were initially ordered to pay an administrative fine.
But the Philippine government decided to waive the fine after the fishermen appealed for leniency and presented a certificate from the Vietnamese government that stated they are indigents.
Duterte, in his Wednesday speech, said he had no problem exempting the fishermen from punishment given their lowly condition and the greater interest of solidarity within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"I had to do it because I made a commitment during the ASEAN. And it was also their promise to do the same, that we treat our poor citizens who happened just to intrude somewhere with understanding, with love," the President said.
Duterte recalled that he was in the exact same place a year ago when he sent off 17 Vietnamese fishermen who had also been accused of poaching.
Before his speech, Duterte personally handed to the 5 Vietnamese a bag of provisions for their journey home.
The Vietnamese ambassador expressed "heartfelt gratitude" for the Philippine government's decision on the fishermen's poaching case and for arranging their trip back to their country. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.