It is tragic, often comic, to watch the Duterte administration methodically nitpick and erode the account of the fishermen from Mindoro on how they were deliberately rammed, sunk and left for dead by a Chinese fishing boat a couple of days before Independence Day in Recto Bank.
The narrative was plain and clear when defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana first put out a statement two days after the incident. He categorically condemned the Chinese fishing boat that rammed and sunk F/V Gem-Ver 1.
After Beijing issued a response through a statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila insinuating that the Chinese ship accidentally hit the fishing vessel while it was being “besieged” by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats, Malacanang took it as a cue to begin muddling the issue.
The most comic thus far was one remark made by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo making a fuzz about the local fishing boat not anchored “on a coastline” when it was hit, as if to suggest the fishermen’s account was suspect. Comic, because everyone knows there is no coastline in the Reed Bank. The funnyman would deploy the most inane issues to confuse the narrative.
But the saddest episode thus far is that of the 22 fishermen being met by agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol executing the Duterte closed fisted salute for a photo op after the captain of the ship backtracked on his statement to say he wasn’t sure anymore if the ramming was deliberate. This, after Piñol held a closed-door meeting with them while police in full anti-riot gear had them surrounded.
A statement was subsequently crafted, with the boat captain’s retraction. Meanwhile, the fishers get half a mini fiberglass boat, or a total of 11 boats for all 22 fishers, and a cash loan of P20,000 each.
That the fishermen were either bribed, pressured or both to make them sing a different tune is a toxic speculation now flooding social media.
At present, the official stance of the Philippine government is there is no final account of what happened on the fateful night in the West Philippine Sea. Beijing has taken advantage of this to redefine the narrative of the incident, proposing a joint probe with Manila which the latter has enthusiastically received.
Everyone from Senator Ping Lacson to the neighborhood barber have rejected China’s account as pure baloney and an outright lie.
If China is sincere and a respectful ally, there is no reason to drag its heels on finding out and disclosing the truth about the role of its fishing vessel in the incident. In trying to peddle instead an obvious lie about the Chinese boat being besieged by the Filipinos, China demonstrates its brazen disregard for integrity.
Meanwhile, Beijing seems content with what is happening, as the Philippine government also shames itself.