The Philippines is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with China if it is shown that the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in the disputed South China Sea was intentional, a Malacanang spokesperson said on Thursday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he has already filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said a Chinese vessel is believed to have collided with the Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank around midnight on Sunday, June 9. The Filipino vessel, the FB Gimver1, was reportedly anchored at the time of the incident.
The Philippine government strongly condemned “the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew” for abandoning 22 Filipino fishermen as their boat sank.
The fishermen were rescued six hours laters by a Vietnamese fishing vessel that brought them to safety with help from the Philippines Armed Forces’ (AFP) Western Command (Wescom).
President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, said that if the sinking was intentional, “it’s an act of aggression.”
“We will cut off diplomatic relations if there are aggressive acts. First, we will file a diplomatic protest. If we are not content with their explanation, (and) we find out that it was intentional, that will be another story,” Panelo said.
“We will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, bullied or to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions from any source.” He said Malacanang had called on the Chinese government to investigate the collision.
“We don’t exactly know what ship was involved. We want to find out first,” he said.
The government will also wait for China’s response to the diplomatic protest.
Panelo said there was no need for the Philippine government to summon the Chinese ambassador to explain the incident.
“If he’s listening now, he should explain,” he said.
According to the spokesperson, Duterte was “outraged” by the incident.
“Whether the collision was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the Philippine vessel,” said Panelo.
He said the territorial dispute between the countries should not be “an impediment for the offending vessel to lend a hand to the distressed crew.”
“The captain and the crew of the Chinese vessel should not have left the injured party without any assistance or succor. Such act of desertion is as inhuman as it is barbaric. It is clear violation of maritime protocols as well as an infringement of internationally accepted practice of assisting a vessel in distress,” said Panelo.
Philippine Navy (PN) Flag Officer-in-Command, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, said that regardless of who is at fault in a collision at sea, vessels that sustained minimal or no damage are obligated to rescue seamen whose lives are under threat.
He said this rule is mandated by the “seafarer’s conscience” and is recognized under international maritime law.
Meanwhile, an expert on maritime accident investigation, has urged caution until more is known about the collision.
“At this moment there is no smoking gun that the offending vessel was Chinese. I advise caution, given the obvious tension. Such incidents usually have fault on both sides,” Bob Couttie told Arab News.
“I doubt the deliberate ramming of an unidentified vessel at the risk of severe damage to one’s own in the dead of night. I would look at watch-keeping practices on both vessels, if possible,” he said.
“Poor watch-keeping is the most common cause of such incidents.”