MANILA -- The Philippine government should demand justice after a Chinese ship rammed a vessel and abandoned Filipino fishermen in open waters, if Manila wants to avoid the fate of Taiwanese vessels sank almost daily by Beijing, an analyst said.
The Filipino vessel was anchored near Reed Bank -- claimed by both Manila and Beijing -- when it was rammed by a Chinese vessel, causing it to sink and leaving 22 crewmen "to the mercy of the elements," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said.
"Nangyari na iyan sa Vietnam, maraming beses at ngayon, baka ito na iyung umpisa na gagawin din sa atin," said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
(That has happened to Vietnam many times and now, this may be the start of similar moves against us.)
"Dapat maging vigilant tayo, hindi puwedeng palampasin natin ito (we should be vigilant, we cannot let this pass). Kailangan magdemand tayo ng accountability to China for this incident," he added.
A nearby Vietnamese fishing vessel helped the crew until other Filipino ships arrived and towed their craft, said Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman.
Under international customs, the moving Chinese vessel was responsible for avoiding the anchored Filipino ship, and should have helped the crew after the collision, said Batongbacal.
The incident, he added, could not have been an accident.
"Kumbaga, maliit na bangka sa gitna ng empty ocean. Deliberate lang iyang puwedeng mangyari. The fact na iniwan pa s'ya... parang walang good faith d'yan," he said
(It was a small boat in the middle of the ocean. It could only be hit deliberately. The fact that it was abandoned appears that there was no good faith.)
The military has yet to get the statement of the Filipino fishermen, who are expected to arrive in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on Friday.
Reed 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.
In 2011, the Philippines accused Chinese vessels of harassing an exploration vessel off Reed Bank.
Manila won a key 2016 ruling against China's claims in the waterway, but President Rodrigo Duterte opted to set it aside to court Chinese investment and trade. His predecessor, former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, initiated the case.
But Duterte in May warned that the South China Sea was becoming a "flashpoint."
"I love China... but it behooves upon us to ask, 'is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean'?" he asked.
With a report from Agence France-Presse