Something fishy

The talk of the town in the latter part of this month is the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese fishing vessel.

As far as I can tell, the facts are as follows:

1. The Philippine fishing boat was anchored within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

2. At or around midnight, with only the cook awake, another vessel was spotted on a collision course with the anchored vessel. The rest of the crew were fast asleep.

3. The cook began to wake the crew. They saw the vessel coming and hit the rear of the fishing boat. The boat began to sink.

4. Some of the crew were able to board a launch and approach the vessel that hit them to ask for help. The others were in the water holding on to drums to stay afloat.

5. The vessel turned on its lights but soon turned it off and the left. The Filipinos were able to identify the vessel as Chinese because of the light configuration. The Chinese later admitted, retracted, and admitted again, that it was their vessel that hit the boat, while fishing, and left the crew to fend for themselves.

6. The Filipinos on the launch rowed out about 5 nautical miles until they saw a Vietnamese vessel from whom they sought assistance.

7. Using the radio of the Vietnamese, they were able to call for help. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese vessel picked up the rest of the crew from the sea and cared for them. The engineer stayed on the boat to save it.

8. All 21 crewmen, the engineer and the boat were able to return to the Philippines.

The experience was bad enough but what happened after seemed completely surreal. Granted, there may be a question on whether or not the collision was intentional, it doesn’t seem disputed that the Chinese vessel left the crew at sea with the sinking boat.

The Chinese admitted that it was a Chinese fishing vessel that struck the fishing boat but they claimed that it was trying to avoid 7 or 8 other Filipino fishing boats that was trying to “besiege” it when they accidentally hit the anchored boat. They said they wanted to save the crew but were afraid of being set upon by the other boats.

The Philippine government isn’t much help. They downplayed the incident as nothing more than a maritime accident aping the Chinese line on the matter. The Presidential spokesman also casted doubt over the crew’s statements about the incident because of alleged inconsistencies in their statements, which is surprising coming from a lawyer but maybe not so surprising because it came from this particular lawyer. Anyway…

Any lawyer worth his salt would know that no two eyewitness accounts will ever be 100% consistent. If it did, then it would have been surely 100% scripted. There will always be some discrepancy but the main story remains the same. From what I read, it appears that there was some time between the Chinese vessel being spotted until the collision occurred. Certainly enough time for the cook to rouse his fellow crewmen from sleep and they had time to see the Chinese vessel ram them. Whatever else may be inconsistent, the fact remains that the vessel hit them while they were anchored, and left them.

If, as the Chinese claim, there were other Filipino boats in the area, then why did the crew have to row some 5 nautical miles out before they were rescued, not by another Filipino boat but a Vietnamese one? Another sad/silly/hilarious statement arising from this fact is that the Philippine government said that it will waive suing the Vietnamese vessel for trespassing. I hope so because they did save our fellow Filipinos; however, the same thing should not be said of the Chinese vessel that rammed the Filipino boat. Remember, the Chinese admitted that it was their vessel that struck the Filipino fishing boat, going so far as to actually name it, and that it was fishing within the Philippine EEZ at the time.

Worse, police in full battle gear suddenly laid siege on the fishermen’s homed as if they were common criminals instead of the victims of a “maritime accident.”

On the other hand, it certainly does not help to rabidly growl and bark at the Chinese or at our own government. If we have to take action, then it certainly should be at the very least, a rational approach.

This incident is just one among many. So, someone — the Philippine Government does not seem to be interested — has to build the case against the Chinese, continue to protest each and every infraction by the Chinese, then build an international coalition against China to shame them. China wants to project itself as a responsible State on the world stage. It’s reputation will suffer if we press them on this. Some say China should not lose face so that some concessions can be had from them but it may be too late for that since they have already illegally occupied what is rightfully ours. If anything, then it is our face that needs saving or preserving.

Remember, this is an offshoot of their baseless Nine-Dash Line that was trashed by the international tribunal. The Chinese presence in the Philippine EEZ is patently illegal. That alone should give us the right to damn well put them in their place.

To paraphrase Jose Rizal, “ang taong hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling bayan ay masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda” (those who do not love their own country is worse than an animal and spoiled fish). We do not need to declare war to fight the Chinese but we do have to fight.

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