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Commentary

The Filipino fishermen’s fortitude

/ 05:02 AM June 23, 2019

It took nearly a week after his own defense minister announced the sinking of a Filipino fishing vessel by a foreign ship before the country’s president found the words to speak up about the tragic event. “A little maritime accident” was how he finally depicted the unforgivable dereliction of duty committed by the intruding and offending party, as the lives of Filipino fishermen were put at risk adrift and in the dark in our very own Philippine waters. A line has been drawn; it has been crossed.

Rammed while anchored near Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea, the FB Gem-Vir 1 captained by Junel Insigne sank with its 22-men crew, and was abandoned by the fleeing Chinese fishing vessel identified as the Yuemaobinyu. The response of a fraternal Vietnamese boat averted what could have been a serious tragedy in Philippine waters.

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The incident is also testament to an incontrovertible fact: our Filipino fishermen’s capacity to face adversity and to deal with the harsh conditions imposed on them by their chosen craft.

The Chinese crew did not know the Filipino fishermen whom they abandoned to their fate as they turned off their huge “superlights” after they saw for themselves that the Filipino boat had gone under. Neither did they know the crew’s fortitude — the capacity of these hardy Filipino fishermen who have worked the seas all their lives under all sorts of conditions.

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Listening to the Mindoro boat’s captain, Insigne, explain the nightmare that they lived through in clear concise language, I was convinced that what he and his crew had in abundance was an intangible that was of far greater value than what our so-called leaders and diplomats, as well as their Chinese counterparts, were attempting to dissemble.

Long before their boat had sunk, Insigne and crew had developed the capacity for honest hard work and endurance, the capacity to learn from the harsh defeats that have come their way, and the fortitude to bounce back after the setbacks that come at different stages of the fishing season as well as its off season.

This experience blends faithfully with the history of our country. We are a country that has faced countless adversities throughout our history: occupied by Western powers, invaded by foreign intruders, humiliated and brought to our knees by the power of Japan, our “open city” bombed even by our allies as they sought to flush out remnants of Japan’s retreating army, involved for decades in a debilitating armed conflict with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wings, engaged in a war without end with Islamic liberation forces in Mindanao, trapped by the political and economic exclusion that has kept a majority of our people poor and without a voice in decisions that truly affect their lives.

And, now in conflict with mighty imperial China, attempting to hold to account those who violate maritime laws and humanitarian norms that know no barriers.

We are a people with a history of resistance, able to mobilize against those who will deprive us of our freedoms. We are resilient even when confronted by the high tide of authoritarian tendencies and the practice of ultrapartisan politics that attempt to destroy its critics rather than respond to the message they bring. We have learned enough from our previous defeats; and, in our book, defeats oftentimes are better teachers than victories.

Unfortunately for the fleeing Chinese fishing vessel and its crew, they failed to factor in the Filipino fishermen’s capacity to overcome adversity, in season and out, which in the end is the ultimate game changer. Our fisherfolk never give up; they never surrender hope. They are relentless in their pursuit to provide food on the table, the well-being of their families, and the safety of their companions at sea and their brothers-in-arms who are part of their crew.

Our Filipino fishermen have just given us a lesson in who we truly are.

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Ed Garcia is one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution and a teacher and mentor to the young.

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TAGS: Ed Garcia, FB Gem-Vir 1, Inquirer Commentary, Junel Insigne, PH-China relations, Recto Bank incident, Reed Bank incident, Rodrigo Duterte
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