The backlash against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte continues to escalate as the government sticks to downplaying the controversial collision between a Philippine fishing boat and a Chinese-owned vessel in the West Philippine Sea.
The words “Duterte duwag (coward)” was a top trending topic on local Twitter this morning as Filipino netizens called the president out for being uncharacteristically chill about the situation.
Many Filipinos are still angry with last week’s news that a Chinese-owned trawler hit a Philippine fishing boat near the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) and subsequently fled the scene even as 22 fishermen struggled to stay afloat.
After close to a week of silence, Duterte finally addressed the issue on Monday, only to dismiss people’s concerns by calling it “just a collision of ships,” and not something to wage war over.
However, many are pointing out that Duterte is missing the point.
“Demanding accountability does not equate to war,” Twitter user @jvcabrera_ said.
@shynbonifacio wrote: “The issue here is about human lives. It’s about abandoning people after the collision. This is not about war. This is simply about giving value to human lives and being accountable to mistakes. An apology could have been acceptable.”
China has acknowledged that it was a Chinese crew that hit the Philippine fishing boat but has not apologized for the incident. Instead, it claimed that the Chinese vessel was “besieged” by seven to eight Filipino fishing boats and was trying to evacuate the area when it hit the Filipinos’ boat. It also rejected reports calling the Chinese crew’s inaction a “hit and run,” reasoning that they did not help in fear that they would be surrounded by other Filipino fishing boats.
However, satellite data shows that this was not possible because the other fishing vessels in the area were too far away, Rappler reported. The Filipino fishing boat captain Junel Insigne said the same.
The 22 Filipino fishermen struggled in the water while wearing life jackets and clung on to plastic barrels and shattered pieces of wood for hours before they were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat where they were fed rice and noodles.
“I believe that anyone who heads out to sea would have done the same thing, not just us,” Ngo Van Theng, the owner of the Vietnamese vessel told news website VnExpress.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol thanked the Vietnamese yesterday but did not miss the chance to point out that they were fishing in the area illegally.
“They were actually poaching, including the Vietnamese that actually aided us. I’m sorry to say that,” Piñol said in a press conference in Occidental Mindoro yesterday, according to GMA News.
Piñol was in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro with police officers in full riot gear yesterday to provide the affected fishermen with boats, nets, hook and lines, life vests, rice.
Following Piñol’s visit, boat captain Insigne changed his tune about what happened at sea that night and said that he was no longer sure if the hit was intentional.
“I was confused … it’s like they hit us but also like they didn’t,” Insigne said in Filipino yesterday, according to GMA News.
The boat captain earlier expressed disappointment over Duterte’s meek response to the issue, saying that it feels like they were being swept aside.
“I am sad because it seems that the move to ram us was just swept aside. What if many of us died?” he told ABS-CBN News in Filipino. “I wanted to hear from him (Duterte) that the Chinese captain would be held accountable. I also hope the Chinese fishing there would be asked to leave because the incident may happen again next year.”
He also previously said that he turned down a meeting with Duterte but took this back yesterday, saying that the invitation to discuss the issue actually came from Piñol and not the president.
“I apologize to our beloved president who, it turns out, did not invite me. It was actually Secretary Piñol who invited me. I did not go, I backed out because I did not feel well,” Insigne said.
Piñol described the boat captain’s earlier comments as “scathing statements against President Rody Duterte” that were “feasted on by the critical media.”
The sudden change in Insigne’s account of the incident has led many to allege that they were pressured by the government to do so but Piñol denies this.
“Let me just correct the impression that there was any attempt on the part of the government or this administration to intimidate the fishermen to change their story or come up with a lie that is favorable to [the] government,” he told radio DZMM earlier today. “That is unfair to well-meaning people in government right now.”
The government has cast doubt on Insigne’s initial account, saying that it was only the boat’s cook Richard Blaza who was awake when the Chinese vessel rammed them. However, Rappler reported that Blaza himself said that he woke up his fellow fishermen including Inisgne who tried to move the boat away from the Chinese trawler.
The Philippine government does not want to pursue legal action against China and the crew of the Chinese vessel at the moment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters today, ABS-CBN News wrote.
He said the cabinet agreed that it is necessary to conduct a joint marine inquiry with China to “establish the true facts, allocate responsibility for restitution, and adopt measures to avoid similar incidents in the future.”
The Duterte administration has been criticized for allegedly being pro-China. The president has refused to uphold the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision that ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea. He has also been lax about addressing the influx of illegal Chinese workers in the country.
This article, ‘Duterte coward’ trends on PH Twitter as government continues to downplay West Philippine Sea boat sinking incident , originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!