MANILA -- Fresh information on the sinking of a Filipino boat rammed by a Chinese vessel is shedding new light on the incident that has raised tensions in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said Tuesday.
The Filipino fishing vessel was anchored near Recto (Reed) Bank -- claimed by both Manila and Beijing -- when it was hit by a Chinese vessel, causing it to sink and leaving 22 crewmen "to the mercy of the elements," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said.
"But lately, may mga lumalabas na facts (there are emerging facts) which seem to raise doubt on certain initial findings," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
The Filipino boat's cook on Monday admitted to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol that he was the only one awake during the incident and that their lights were dim, possibly preventing the Chinese from spotting them, Panelo radio DZMM.
A diagram presented by Lorenzana to the Cabinet on Monday also shows 11 smaller boats surrounding the Filipino vessel, noted Panelo.
China, he noted, earlier said its trawler tried to rescue the fishermen but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats.
Panelo, however, was quick to add that, "Regardless kung ano man ang nangyari doon, we condemn the act of abandoning iyong ating mga tripolante, crew."
(Regardless of what happened there, we condemn the act of abandoning our seamen, crew.)
Lorenzana last week condemned the "cowardly action" of the Chinese boat while Panelo blasted the abandonment of the Filipino crew as "barbaric".
But President Rodrigo Duterte, in his first public comments about the sinking, said it was was just "a maritime incident."
"'Wag kayong maniwala diyan sa mga politiko, bobo, gusto papuntahin 'yung Navy... Banggaan lang ng barko 'yan. Do not make it worse," he said.
(Do not believe those stupid politicians. They want to send the Navy. That is just a collision of boats.)
DIFFERENT TREATMENT FOR CHINA, CANADA?
Panelo addressed criticism that Duterte's remark bore a stark contrast to his comments against Ottawa, with whom he threatened to go to war in April if it fails to take back heaps of trash shipped by a Canadian firm.
"Iyung sa Canada, 5 o 6 na taon na atang nakabinbin iyon at pinapangakuan tayong kukuhanin nila, hindi nila ginagawa. That is why the President was so outraged by that. Iyon, established ang facts, walang kaduda-duda iyon," said the Palace official.
(With Canada, the trash had been languishing for 5 or 6 years. They keep promising that they'd take it back, but they don't... The facts there are established, there was no doubt.)
"Itong sa China, hindi natin alam exactly. May version kasi ang ating grupo, may version din ang kabila. That's why the President said we have to hear the side, they have a right to be heard," he said.
(With China, we don't know exactly what happened. Our group has a version of the events, the other side has their own version.)
Panelo said the sinking was not an ordinary incident because "this might affect trade relations between the 2 countries."
"Kaya titingnan natin kung anong tunay na nangyari at kung malaman na natin, saka tayo gagawa ng galaw na naaayon... But we would like to assure our countrymen na ginagawa natin ang lahat upang ang ating mga kababayan na nasangkot doon sa sakuna ay mabigyan natin ng alalay," he said.
(This is why we will look at what really happened and once we find out, we will take appropriate action. But we would like to assure our countrymen that we are doing everything to give help to our compatriots involved in this disaster.)