The Philippine government has precooked the ingredients of investigation, and the resulting dish is a “lutong makaw.”
I’m referring to the supposed investigation of the incident involving 22 Filipino fishermen who were abandoned drifting in open sea after their boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel. Our own government has made it utterly useless to do an investigation because it has corrupted the fishermen’s statements and ruined their credibility before an independent panel.
Shortly after they were rescued, our fishermen said that it was a Chinese fishing vessel that rammed their boat in what they emphatically declared as an intentional act. It was an outright accusation of a despicable crime bolstered by two undisputed facts — their boat was gravely damaged, and they were appallingly abandoned holding on to debris in the open sea.
With unabashed impropriety, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol met with the fishermen behind closed doors and with the area surrounded by policemen in intimidating full battle gear. Piñol gave the fishermen fiberglass fishing vessels, sacks of rice and thousands in loans and cash grants. An undisguised carrot-and-stick stratagem.
Immediately after the meeting, and while seated beside Piñol, the captain of the fishing boat changed his tune and declared that he was confused and he really didn’t know now if they were indeed intentionally rammed by the Chinese vessel. The boat captain was virtually made to admit that he concocted an outright lie when he earlier claimed the ramming was clearly intentional. He was further made to confess that his earlier statement accusing the Chinese of deliberately committing a crime was driven by an angry desire to exact revenge against the Chinese culprits, because he and his crew were abandoned at sea.
Of course, the body language of the boat captain spoke of someone being coerced to mouth a narrative force-fed by the government. But the legal impact of what the government did, through Piñol, is to render our fishermen’s capacity for truth-telling weakened by unreliability before independent investigators.
Piñol rammed down the boat captain’s throat an element of poison that will make every word that will henceforth come out of his mouth debased by adulteration.
By forcing our fishermen to backtrack on their claim that there was an element of intentionality on the part of the Chinese, the Philippine government has disingenuously padlocked the doors to an investigation of a crucially important issue: Was the Philippine boat rammed in furtherance of the Chinese government’s claim of ownership over the Recto Bank, which is an internationally established exclusive economic zone (EEZ) subject to the sovereign rights of the Philippines?
The resolution of this issue has enormous national security and sovereignty implications, especially for our fishermen who rely on our EEZ for their fishing livelihood—and the Philippine government has done the country an immense disservice by sweeping it under the rug.
As if gagging the fishermen were not enough, the highest of our government leaders—President Duterte, Senate President Tito Sotto, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo and Agriculture Secretary Piñol—all hastily rendered judgment refuting our fishermen’s tale of a dastardly crime committed in the high seas.
With the pronouncement of judgment rendered even before any investigation, which inferior government official assigned in any investigation panel would dare come up with a finding contrary to the verdict already pronounced by his superiors?
Things got even worse with Mr. Duterte declaring that Chinese fishermen are allowed to exploit our EEZ. This is a blanket license given to Chinese fishermen to trample upon our Constitution, which reserves our EEZ exclusively for Filipinos.
Meanwhile, the 22 fishermen were given boats that are incapable of reaching Recto Bank. Our poor fishermen must be reeling from this subliminal message by their own government: Leave the Chinese alone and never go back to Recto Bank.
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