‘Responses calibrated’

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President Rodrigo Duterte will take the road of caution and will maintain calibrated responses in dealing with the collision of Chinese and Filipino fishing vessels recently in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo stressed the President is “a very cautious man. If you noticed, he makes calibrated responses.”

He said the incident is still under investigation and should not be compared to the quick response of the President regarding other issues.

“When the President speaks, they are intentional to get some desired effects or sometimes as he calls it he shakes the tree for reactions,” he added.

Malacañang, at the same time, said it is giving China the “benefit of the doubt” regarding its initial response on the recent sinking of a Filipino fishing boat believed to be caused by a Chinese vessel.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the government in still determining if the fishing vessel that sank a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea belonged to China.

Lorenzana said in Davao City that he based his earlier report on the statement of fishermen who witnessed the incident, but he is still awaiting the results of the investigation being conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine military.

“I will not anymore add something to what I have said until we talk to the fishermen and get the intelligence investigation on the incident that happened during a dark evening,” he said.

What the Palace and Lorenzana consistently condemned was the manner of the offending vessel for leaving immediately after the collision, endangering the lives of 22 Filipino fishermen who were supposedly picked up by a Vietnamese ship.

The Chinese government has been informed and the Chinese government had started an investigation into the incident.

Sanctions if Chinese
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said Beijing will punish those responsible for the incident.

“If it were true that it was a Chinese fishing boat which did it, they would be duly educated and punished for their irresponsible behavior,” Zhao said in a text message to Panelo.

“Incidents happen even in the best-regulated family. We hope this incident could be held in a proper context,” he added.

Zhao said the incident is being “thoroughly and seriously investigated,” adding that Beijing “shares (the Philippines’) concerns” about the fishermen.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also took the cudgels for the President on his alleged silence on the reported “collision.”

As Cabinet members, Locsin said it was proper for him and other concerned officials to stress the government stand on the matter being the alter ego of the President.

“Hey, that’s my job and military intelligence even as I’ve fired a diplomatic protest on available evidence. It is our job to stick our necks out first. Or what are we here for?” Locsin responded to a netizen calling out the President on the issue.

Locsin filed a diplomatic protest against China barely hours after the “collision” between an alleged Chinese vessel and F/B Gimver 1, a Filipino-owned fishing boat near Reed Bank.

Alter egos spoke
“He has already made a statement through his presidential spokesman and chief presidential legal counsel, as well as his two other alter egos, the Secretary of National Defense and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs,” Panelo said for his part.

The spokesman noted that the statements included an expression of outrage and calls for an investigation and punishment for those responsible for the 9 June incident in the vicinity of the disputed Reed (Recto) Bank.

Neither Beijing nor Manila have officially confirmed the boat involved in the hit-and-run incident was Chinese-registered.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called the incident “an ordinary maritime traffic accident,” and said China was still investigating.

He added, however: “If the relevant reports are true, regardless of the country from which the perpetrator came from, their behavior should be condemned.”

Geng said it was irresponsible for the Philippines to “politicize the incident without verification.”

Recto Bank is about 150 kilometers off Palawan. It is within Manila’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and far from China’s nearest major landmass.

Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, Flag Officer-in-command of the Phil Navy, said it is very clear that the fishing boat sank was not moving, since it was anchored in Recto Bank, which is a Philippine territory, when it was rammed.

“The Filipino fishing vessel was not sailing and immobile and is very clear that the big fishing boat clearly rammed then sank it and abandoned the 22 men at sea,” Empedrad said.

Keith Calayag, Pat C. Santos

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