DFA: Protest filed over Chinese vessel's sinking of a Filipino boat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 13) — The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest as it accused a Chinese fishing vessel of ramming a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea.

This was confirmed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. in a tweet on Thursday.

"Thanks, meanwhile I fired off a diplomatic protest yesterday," Locsin said in response to a statement made by outgoing Senator Antinio Trillanes IV, calling on the government to report the incident to the International Maritime Organization, an agency under the United Nations, which could conduct an independent probe.

In another tweet, he said he filed the protest "quietly," but did not give anymore details.

This comes a day after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced and condemned the Chinese fishing vessel's "cowardly action." Lorenzana said the foreign vessel hit the anchored Filipino boat near Recto Bank on June 9, and did not stop to help the local fishermen, whose boat sank.

Also known as Reed Bank, the underwater feature in the West Philippine Sea is claimed by both the Philippines and China. The West Philippine Sea is a portion being claimed by the Philippines within the long-contested waters of South China Sea.

The area is seen as a potential flash point and tensions have risen in recent years because of China's building there of artificial islands and installation of weapons that could be used to intimidate other claimant countries.

Malacañang on Thursday called on the Chinese government to investigate the Chinese crew for abandoning the 22 Filipino fishermen.

"The present territorial conflict between the countries of the two colliding vessels pertaining to the area where the collision occurred, is not - and can not be an impediment for the offending vessel to lend a hand to the distressed crew," Presidential Spokersperson Salvador Panelo said.

"We call on the appropriate Chinese authorities to probe the collision and impose the proper sanctions to the Chinese crew," he added, calling it a violation of maritime protocols.

While officials use the term "collision" to refer to the incident, the Armed Forces' Western Command (WesCom) likened it to a hit-and-run, that could be intentional.

"Naka-anchor kasi gabi na po, pagkatapos ito po ay nabangga nitong Chinese vessel, yan, and after the collision the Chinese vessel immediately umalis po e, tumakas, parang hit-and-run," Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante, acting WesCom Spokesperson told reporters Wednesday night.

[Translation: It was anchored because it was night time, and then it was hit by the Chinese vessel. After the collision, the Chinese vessel immediately left, ran way, like a hit-and-run.]

Panelo said, "Regardless of the nature of the collision, whether it was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the downed Philippine vessel."

He added that the government is now assisting the fishermen who were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

The incident occured on June 9, which happened to be the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day. Officials have said what the Chinese vessel did was not how supposed allies should treat each other.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for pursuing friendly ties with China despite the East Asian giant's incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

China rejects the arbitration ruling that invalidated Chinese sweeping claims in the South China Sea and recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in some of the features within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone that are being claimed by Beijing.

The country claims Reed Bank as part of the province of Palawan, as it is only 85 nautical miles away from Philippine shores.

The government earlier protested the swarming of Chinese vessels around Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island and Chinese fishermen's harvesting of giant clams, locally known as taklobos, in Scarborough Shoal.