Cook of Gem-Ver crew: ‘China is lying’

Rambo Talabong

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Cook of Gem-Ver crew: ‘China is lying’
'Noong paglapit [namin] sa kanila para makapagsaklolo, para matulungan kami, sumibat na sila. Tapos sabihin nila kami pa ang nagsisinungaling?' says Richard Blaza

MANILA, Philippines – Richard Blaza, the cook of the Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver sunk by a Chinese fishing ship in the West Philippine Sea, believes that China is lying.

Blaza has been mistakenly branded by the Duterte government as the “sole witness” to the ramming of F/B Gem-Ver near Recto Bank (Reed Bank) on June 9. Top government officials have said that he was unsure about the Chinese fishing vessel unintentionally ramming them.

Blaza bared in an interview with Rappler, however, what he was certain of from the incident: that China was lying about the abandonment of the Filipino crew. (READ: Malacañang open to Chinese claim vs Filipino fishermen)

“Totoong sinungaling sila talaga, na bakit kami pa ang nagsabi na nag-ano sa kanila, at sila ang nakapang-ilaw, eh kami ang naka-anchor doon eh,” Blaza told Rappler last Saturday, June 15, in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

(They’re really lying, that they’re claiming we were the ones who surrounded them and they flashed their lights at us, when we were the ones anchored there.)

Blaza was commenting on China’s statement that the Chinese vessel was “besieged” by 7 to 8 Filipino fishing boats.

It turns out, they were just small Filipino “kawil” boats – kayak-sized wooden vessels that fit one fisherman at a time.

“Totoong naglapit sa kanila gawa nang nagsaklolo. Noong paglapit [namin] sa kanila para makapagsaklolo, para matulungan kami, sumibat na sila. Tapos sabihin nila kami pa ang nagsisinungaling?” Blaza said.

(We really tried to go to them, asking for help. When we came close to them to ask for help, so they could help us, they left. And now they’re saying we’re the ones who are lying?)

Who was awake then? Blaza recounted that he was also sleeping when the Chinese vessel approached them. But because he was resting outside the boat’s cabin, he was the first to hear it coming and woke up. (READ: Filipino fishermen awake when Chinese ship rammed their boat)

“Noong naluto ko ‘yung sinaing ko, may napansin lang ako na ilaw sa malayo. Tapos eh, naghiga lang ako, tamang idlip ko lang, napansin ko lang po ang ano, ‘yung andar ng barko, ‘yung ugong. Eh di nagmulat ako, nag-upo ako,” Blaza said.

(When I finished cooking, I noticed a light from afar. Then, I just lied down, I slept a little, then I noticed the roar of the ship. That’s when I opened my eyes and sat up.)

He added: “Noong pagtingin ko, ‘yung barko, andiyan na ‘yung barko, malapit na, mahahagip kami, sumigaw na kaagad ako sa mga kasamahan ko na ano mag-alisto sila…. Tumakbo ako sa kapitan. Sabi ko kay kapitan ay…’Paandarin mo ang makina….’ Tamang susi niya sa bangka namin, naglagapak na sa hulihan, nabunggo na kami.”

(When I looked, the ship was already there, close already. It was about to ram us. I immediately shouted to my fellow crewmen to be alert…. I ran to the captain, I told him to start the engine. Just as he inserted the key, the ship hit our rear, we were rammed.)

Blaza’s account is consistent with the other fishermen of Gem-Ver: that the Chinese vessel rammed them, turned on its lights to see them, and then abandoned them.

“Narinig nila ‘yung ingay, ‘yung sigaw ba na saklolo. Pinailawan nila lahat…. Nakita nila na kami’y naglulutang sa dagat,” Blaza said.

(They heard the noise, our call for help. They turned on their lights to see everything…. They saw us floating in the waters.) –

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Rambo Talabong

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.