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Human Face

Don’t-offend-China policy

A boat has been hit or, more precisely, it has been destroyed, and you say, “Don’t rock the boat!”? Whose boat?

That seems to be what the China-enamored, ass-licking, bootlicking Philippine government officials are saying in the case of the small fishing boat Gem-Vir, which, with 22 Filipino fishermen aboard, was rammed by a big Chinese trawler last week at the Philippine-claimed Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea. After the ramming, the Chinese trawler left the shipwrecked Filipino crew to save their own lives, until a Vietnamese boat came to their rescue.

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Philippine officials are falling all over themselves — nagkakandarapa, to put it onomatopoeically in Filipino — to minimize the gravity of what the Chinese crew did (hit and run) and did not do (save lives) by making hurting, if not mindless remarks that downplay the seriousness of what happened. So afraid to offend China? What if it were a different-flag-carrying vessel? Would we not hear the end of it?

President Duterte, after a weeklong silence, made a tactless utterance by calling the ramming of Gem-Vir “a little maritime accident.” Couldn’t he have said something less “heartbreaking” (Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s word) to our fishermen?

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Then there is Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, quoted as saying the ramming couldn’t have been intentional.

Shameless were the Philippine Navy officials who made the rescued fishermen formally pose for a group picture with their fists thrust forward (Duterte’s Hitler-style salute). Pray tell, for what purpose? I say this most gently in Filipino: Hindi na kayo naawa at nahiya. But inside me is a boatload of expletives for you.

“An isolated incident,” said Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. I dislike that statement when used to refer to a grievous act, because it suggests there should be more of it to be considered grave enough. The phrase is better used in the context of epidemiology when people’s fears of a disease outbreak need to be assuaged.

Would you say to a victim of extreme violence, “This is an isolated case/incident”? Huh? You want more? Shouldn’t you instead gravely say, “This is one too many”?

Persons found floating at sea are supposed to be rescued—that is in the international code of conduct, written or unwritten. If you leave them to die or unaided, that is criminal negligence. That is why shipwrecked refugees, though unwanted by their country of destination, are supposed to be rescued. (Today is United Nations World Refugee Day.) The Philippines had done a lot of that when waves of Vietnamese refugees sailed toward our shores in the late 1970s via the now disputed West Philippine Sea.

Whether the ramming was accidental (as the Chinese say) or deliberate (as the Filipino crew aver because their boat was anchored and stationary), leaving the shipwrecked Filipino fishermen to the sharks was a crime of omission that cries to the heavens. What if there was no immediate rescue? The lame excuse (palusot) that there was an, uh, flotilla of Filipino-manned fishing boats (there was none) attempting to circle and lynch the Chinese was carrying it too far.

Hastily, the Philippine government downplayed the ramming and criminal negligence on the part of the Chinese vessels’ crew by repeatedly saying that an investigation must first be done and the allegations proven. As in a court of law?

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The subtext: The government cannot take just yet the Filipino fishermen’s version—to use an apt metaphor — hook, line and sinker. The Philippines cannot risk going to war. Why raise the specter of war every time?

In other words, stay on the side of caution so that China does not get offended. In other words, better to put our own aggrieved citizens under a cloud of doubt than offend China. In other words, this is just “a minor maritime accident.”

Minor? Isolated? Incident? Accident? There is reason for belligerent outcries on behalf of our fishermen. We cannot look the other way, especially because this is not the first time that Chinese trawlers left Filipino fishermen’s lives and livelihood compromised.

And now secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles has resurrected an obsolete word, “allision” (as against deliberate ramming and collision), to describe the tragedy. Another euphemism to mollify or appease China. Can’t you hear them laughing? Pinagtatawanan lang tayo.

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, PH-China relations, Recto Bank incident, Reed Bank incident
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