[OPINION] The 22 fishermen must learn a proper fist bump

And the engines wouldn’t even work on the boats, which in the first place were too small to take to Recto Bank where the big fish are.

Twelve boats for 22 fishermen presumes a buddy system because they really shouldn’t be sailing too far from the shore alone. But now the problem is there are no engines, so maybe they’ll be given oars instead.

That’s fine because the fishermen have 3 years to pay the DA the P25,000 it loaned them to assuage the tragedy of having survived a boat-wreck which they failed to take a video of.

So now, they only have a few problems.

One, the 22 fishermen need to decide whether to take up retail fishing in the shallows with their new boats or find another boss with a big boat like the fallen Gem-Ver to hire them.

The pros and cons are, retail fishing makes them their own bosses but there’s hardly any good fish to be caught in coastal waters. It takes a big boat to reach Recto Bank and other shoals in the West Philippine Sea, but it costs about a million pesos and would be too much to ask of the DA or any government agency.

And then of course, if the 22 fishermen go back to the shoals, they risk more Chinese boats bumping into them. 

Problem number two, they need to work on their smiles and fist bumps because in the pictures that came out of their photo-ops with the DA, they looked like ingrates. Considering they would never have had the luxury of choosing between two kinds of fishing if the boat-wreck never happened, they could afford to ham it up a little.

And they really ought to look more grateful if they expect the government to find out what the Chinese crew of that ship Yuemaobinyu 42212 were thinking when they sailed straight into the Gem-Ver in the middle of the night on June 9.

It’s a pity none of the fishermen had the presence of mind to take a video when it happened. Of the 22 of them, not even one realized they were in the middle of a historic incident and grabbed a camera phone to document it.

Which leads us to their problem number 3. They need to convince the government and some sectors of the public of the authenticity of their misfortune, especially because the Gem-Ver was hauled back to shore and not reduced to smithereens as most people imagined. 

The 22 fishermen must regret not having any device to corroborate their memory because now, they will have to synchronize their recollections of the incident if they are to avoid being accused of making it all up, especially since the Coast Guard said they could be held liable for inconsistencies in their retelling of the event.

Had they known all this, then surely they would have designated one among themselves at that moment to take note of the direction and velocity at which the Yuemaobinyu 42212 came at them, precisely what portions of the Gem-Ver received the impact, the shape and size of the damage to the hull and the rate at which water seeped into it, the speed and angle at which the Gem-Ver capsized, the weight of their own stocks and provisions that would have contributed to their descent, and the movements of the Yuemaobinyu 42212 that could have indicated the Chinese crew’s reaction to the impact, whether it was satisfaction or surprise.

The fact that the Yuemaobinyu 42212 went its way without interfering in the 22 fishermen’s actions during the incident speaks of the Chinese crew’s assessment of the Filipinos’ good health and competence in responding to the situation. If so, then it might be possible to conclude that the sinking of the Gem-Ver was not at all life-threatening to her crew.

This could severely hamper any efforts by the 22 fishermen to get more sympathy and assistance from the government and the public, and so they must find creative ways of narrating their experience.

A fourth problem, which the fishermen could have totally avoided, came about when their skipper snubbed an invitation by the President that turned out to be nonexistent. The skipper should have known better than to think that the President would summon him over a little maritime incident, much less bring the matter up with the Chinese.

Because they made the President look bad, the 22 fishermen have earned themselves enemies, which are the last thing they need right now.

Luckily for them, the secretary of the DA with his entourage of riot police went out of his way to coach the fishermen on how to navigate the situation. The 12 boats that cannot sail very far from the shore and the engines that cannot work on the 12 boats and the P25,000 payable in 3 years with no collateral and no interest are just a side dish to the all-important advice on how to get the President on their side. 

And the results were immediate. After that meeting with the secretary of the DA, the enlightened skipper was able to tell the public that he was confused about the events of June 9, which clarified everything for the government and vindicated the President whose honor had been besmirched by the skipper’s presumption.

Which brings us back to the matter of the 22 fishermen’s fist bumps. Well aware of how symbolic the gesture is of the President’s zeal in defending Filipinos like themselves, they really ought to do it better if they know what’s good for them. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga is a journalist who has extensively covered the West Philippine Sea saga. He has experienced life at sea with Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal, and saw firsthand China's military bases on artificial islands in the Spratlys. He is joining Rappler as a multimedia reporter.

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.