Fishermen recount boat ramming ordeal amid China's 'lies'

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 15) — They thought it was a bad dream.

Filipino fishermen on board Gem-Vir 1 were jolted from sleep midnight of June 9 when a Chinese vessel hit their boat as it was anchored near Recto Bank, an underwater feature in the West Philippine Sea claimed by both Manila and Beijing.

"Nagising ako. Bigla pong nabangga kami. Mabilis 'yung takbo, mabilis. Kaya nung pagbangga sa amin naputol yung hulihan biglang lubog 'yung bangka namin," Junel Insigne, the boat's captain told reporters shortly after coming home to Occidental Mindoro on Friday.

[Translation: I was awakened. We were suddenly hit. It was moving fast, really fast. So when it crashed us, the rear end of our boat broke and it sank."]

"Akala po namin panaginip lang yon pala totoo na (We thought we were dreaming, but it was real)," one of the 22 fishermen said.

Insigne, a fisherman for two decades, said he expected the Chinese crew to stop and help them, but it instead abandoned them in the open seas.

"Nung nakita na kaming lubog na naglalanguyan na kami biglang umatras ng mabilis bago pinatay yung ilaw, nagtatakbo palayo, iniwanan na kami. Akala ko tutulungan kami," he said.

[Translation: When it saw that our boat sank and we were already swimming, it suddenly moved away before turning its lights off and it sailed away, leaving us behind. I thought they would help us."]

He said they struggled, floating in the cold sea for almost three hours before they were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat. Two of them paddled a small boat for about two hours until they finally sought help from Vietnamese fishermen.

"Pinaakyat nila kami doon pinakain muna, pinainom ng tubig (They let us in, fed us and gave us water to drink)," Inisgna said.

It is the latest reported incident of harassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea that the lies within Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Recto Bank, internationally known as Reed Bank, is just 85 nautical miles away from Palawan, well within the country's EEZ. The government filed a diplomatic protest on Wednesday, shortly after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced and denounced the Chinese boat's abandonment of the Filipino fishermen thrown into the sea after their vessel was rammed.

'China lying'

Malacañang on Saturday said it was still waiting for Beijing to respond, while a Chinese Embassy statement told a different story: that the Chinese fishing vessel allegedly was "besieged" by seven or eight Filipino boats, before "accidentally" hitting a Filipino boat as it was trying to escape. It also said the Chinese crew only left when they saw that the fishermen were rescued by another Filipino fishing boat.

Opposition senators found China's version "ridiculous," but Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro Locsin, Jr. said in a tweet, "that's China's take and it is a free world; it can say anything it wants."

Locsin added that in the Philippines' case " we speak from the law of the sea."

Meanwhile, the Filipino fishermen said China's claims were all lies.

"Hindi po di po iyon totoo dahil nag-iisang bangka lang po kami doon. Tapos may Vietnam lang po, tapos bago kami nakatulog hindi pa namin nakita yung China na iyon," stressed Jaypee Gordiones, one of the two fishermen who asked a Vietnamese fishing crew in the area for help.

[Translation: "Those are not true because we were the only boat there. There happened to be a Vietnamese boat nearby but before we slept we did not even see the Chinese vessel.

The fishermen also said the Chinese never tried to help them.

One of the fishermen drew a sketch of what that hit them, which Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said has "the shape of a maritime militia vessel."

LOOK: Chinese vessel that sank Filipino boat, as sketched by fisherman

'Remove Chinese vessel'

While families of the fishermen were relieved to welcome them home, they remain outraged by China's actions.

"Ang pagkakaalam ko diyan naging kaibigan na ng Philippines ang China... Pero anong nangyari?" said Marilyn Llaban, one of the relatives. "Dapat tinulungan nila e. Kung hindi man nila binalak na banggain yon dapat binalikan nila."

[Translation: From what I know, China is already a friend of the Philippines... But what happened? They should have helped the Filipino fishermen. If the Chinese crew did not plan to hit the boat, they should have rescued them.]

The victims and their families are hoping the government would demand justice from China. Insigne is calling on the government to have the Chinese vessel involved in the incident removed from the country's waters.

"Kasi baka hindi lang po sa amin gawin yung pagbangga malay mo lang baka sa ibang mangingisda po mangyari po," he said.

[Translation: Because we might not be the last victim of ramming, it might happen to other fishermen.]

President Rodrigo Duterte has so far not spoken about the incident amid calls for him to condemn the harassment. He has been criticized for establishing friendly ties with Bejing despite its intrusions in the West Philippine Sea. 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.