MANILA, Philippines – Junel Insigne, the captain of the Philippine boat that was sunk by a Chinese fishing vessel in the West Philippine Sea feels like the Duterte government has dismissed their ordeal.
"Parang balewala lang po pagbangga sa amin (It's like the ramming meant nothing)," Insigne said in an interview with ABS-CBN News on Tuesday, June 18.
This comes after Presiden Rodrigo Duterte broke his silence on the issue on Monday, dismissing the ramming as a "maritime incident" that needed further investigation before he issues a firm statement.
The fishermen of Fishing Boat Gem-Ver have repeatedly said that the Chinese trawler intentionally rammed their boat's rear and abandoned them. Duterte and his officials, however, have been holding back at adopting the fishermen's accounts, wanting to hear China's side thoroughly first.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr, meanwhile, raised the incident at the United Nations (UN), slamming the abandonment of the Filipino crew as a "felony."
Like Duterte, China earlier dismissed the ramming as a "maritime incident", even claiming in an earlier statement that the Chinese fishing vessel was "besieged" by Filipino boats.
"Paano po kung marami po ang namatay sa amin?...Binangga po kami talaga (What if many died from our crew?...We were really rammed intentionally)" Insigne said.
In his visit to the fishermen on Sunday, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi doubted that the Chinese trawler intentionally sank the Filipino fishermen. They were only a "grazed", he said, and the Chinese boat could have done worse. After hearing Cusi's statement, Insigne backed out from an invitation to speak with Duterte in Malacañang.
Duterte government's doubts: Malacañang on Tuesday it doubted that the Chinese intentionally harmed the Filipinos.
Citing an interview of Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel "Manny" Piñol with the crew's cook Richard Blaza, Panelo said nobody but Blaza knew whether the bigger boat intentionally rammed them.
Blaza was the only crewman on the deck of F/B Gem-Ver when the Chinese ship sped towards them as he was cooking. Blaza supposedly told government officials that he was not sure whether the Chinese boat intended to ram them.
However, Insigne and other crew members have repeatedly claimed that they also saw the Chinse ship coming, and they believed its advance was deliberate and intentional. They said they weren't all asleep, but resting inside the boat.
Blaza has said that he rushed to Insigne to tell him to maneuver the boat away from the Chinese ship's path, but their boat was no match in speed. The Chinese vessel left a hole in the stern of F/B Gem-Ver, causing it to sink. The Chinese boat then returned to the wreckage and flashed its lights, switched these off, sped away, and never returned.
In an earlier interview with Rappler, Insigne had insisted that if the Chinese did not intend to ram them, they should have at least saved them. (READ: Captain of abandoned PH boat: 'Lumubog nga kami, kami pa ang aatake?')
"Talagang binangga nila kami. Kung talagang kami'y tutulungan n'yo, dapat hindi sila tumakbo palayo. Eh nakitang lumubog, tumakbo sila palayo, pinatay pa ang ilaw para hindi makilala, para hindi makita," he said.
(They really rammed us. If they really tried to help us, they shouldn't have sped away. They saw us sinking, they left, they even turned off their lights so they wouldn't be identified.)
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.