Duterte wants China's side heard in Recto Bank 'maritime accident'

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President Rodrigo Duterte, after being silent for days about the incident in Recto Bank, spoke about the issue on Monday.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — Breaking his silence on the issue, President Rodrigo Duterte finally spoke about the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat after it was hit by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank, saying it would be foolish to go to war with China over the "maritime accident."

"It is best investigated. And I do not now issue a statement, because there is no investigation (yet) and there is no result. Then the only thing we can do is to wait and give the other party the right to be heard," he said at the 121st anniversary of the Philippine Navy in Cavite City Monday night.

Duterte first repeatedly referred to the sinking of the Philippine boat in what is internationally known as the Reed Bank as a "maritime incident." Towards the end of his speech, however, he called it "a little maritime accident" between two vessels- similar to Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang's statement that it was an ordinary "maritime traffic accident."

The incident has drawn condemnation from government officials, Duterte's critics and ordinary citizens, after Filipino fishermen narrated how the Chinese crew abandoned them and did not offer help as their boat was sinking. Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday said Duterte's statement on the incident shows he is "speckless and spineless in front of China."

Duterte also rejected calls to send Navy ships to the area to wage war against China, even though he said he would personally opt to do so.

"You do not send gray ships there. Bangaan lang ng barko 'yan [It's just a collision of ships]. Do not make it worse because that's a fertile ground for... Alam niyong mga sundalo, miscommunication 'yan, patay na [You soldiers know, that's miscommunication and we're dead]. And we are not as ready," he said.

The President added that to have "guns cocked to go to war, that is the most stupid thing I can..."

He said there are rules in handling situations like the Recto Bank allision.

"You know, we are ruled as a civilized nation and as members of the community by the law that govern whatever happens in the seas as we go along our business. There will be rules for a military confrontation. There will be rules for a mistaken identity attack. There is a rule for fishermen's boats. There is a rule for an aircraft carrier bumping a banca boat, a fishing boat," Duterte said.

The 22 Filipino fishermen said the Chinese vessel deliberately hit their boat. China said it was an accident that happened as the Chinese vessel was trying to flee seven to eight Filipino boats that "besieged" it.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters Duterte wants a thorough investigation due to the conflicting stories. Duterte has summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua to discuss the matter, he added

The President has been criticized for developing warmer ties with China, despite the territorial row with Beijing, which has refused to recognize the 2016 international arbitral ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims in the South China Sea.The arbitral tribunal also largly favored the Philippines, which took China to court for encroaching on sea features withing its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, destroying the marine environment there and preventing Filipino fishermen from fishing in traditional fishing grounds.