The tension in the highly contested West Philippine Sea (WPS) flared up once again when a Philippine fishing boat was rammed by a Chinese commercial fishing vessel, and later on abandoning its 22 marooned crew. The incident caused a vehement outcry from the Filipino community demanding that the Chinese be held liable for the criminal injustice.
During the presidential campaign period in 2016, then-candidate Rodrigo Duterte was famously quoted saying, “I will ride a jet ski [to the Spratlys] while bringing the Philippine flag. I will plant the flag on the runway and tell the Chinese authorities, ‘Kill me’.”
Since his rise to power, President Duterte visited China four times to “put forward the national security and interest”.
“Our countrymen are assured that the President is chartering our independent foreign policy to a new height of diplomatic relations with other nations,” presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said in a press statement last April during his “highly successful” visit.
It is interesting to note that less than a month before the president’s fourth visit, Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales joined the fishermen in filing the communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 13.
Malacañang simply brushed off efforts by del Rosario and Carpio to engage China in the international sphere and put pressure on Beijing over the arbitral tribunal.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. said on Wednesday that he already filed a diplomatic protest to the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“I fired off a diplomatic protest yesterday (Wednesday),” Locsin said on Twitter as he replied to the statement of outgoing Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on the incident.
In light of the mishap ratcheting up the international community, President Duterte’s silence over the issue is telling. To date, he has yet to address the Filipino people over the mishap.
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy has issued a statement totally denying responsibility for the incident while claiming it was the Filipinos who attacked them.
Beijing has introduced a “he said-she said” narrative on the Reed Bank incident and will stand by its own account regardless of what the Philippines or the international community will say. It has succeeded with such posturing before, when it ignored the international arbitral court’s ruling on the Philippine complaint.
The ball is now in the court of the Philippines, and Malacañang is still dribbling and dabbling like it is grappling for a clear foreign policy direction.