Duterte on sinking of Filipino boat: 'Wala namang namatay e'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said there is no need for war or even a "convoluted argument" with China over last week's sinking of a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea.

A Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank, an underwater feature being claimed by both Manila in Beijing, on June 9. Duterte reiterated that it was a "maritime incident or accident."

"It is not a confrontation of armed men and machines or ships. Wala ngang namatay (Nobody died)," he said in a speech in Davao City. He stressed that war is not an option.

All 22 Filipino fishermen on board the boat F/B Gem-Ver were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel hours after floating in the high seas.

"At tsaka that is not the proper (action)... Wala namang namatay e," Duterte said. "China says, kung kasalanan nila, magbayad sila. Why do we have to go into a convoluted argument?"

[Translation: And that is not the proper action. Nobody died, anyway. China says, if it is their fault they will pay. Why do we have to go into a convoluted argument?]

Duterte has been criticized for pursuing friendly ties with China despite its incursions in the West Philippine Sea, or areas in the South China Sea claimed or occupied by the Philippines. Whenever there are issues in the contested waters, Duterte would say he could not go to war with China for fear of losing Filipinos' lives.

"Hindi ako takot sa China. Takot ako na baka walang kalaban laban tayo at baka tayo ang maubos," he said.

[Translation: I am not afraid of China. I fear that we might be helpless and our soldiers might die.]

Beijing has suggested a joint probe on Recto Bank incident, but Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. on Friday rejected it, saying the two countries will conduct separate investigations.

Pending investigation results, the top officials of both countries are calling it an accident.

In an earlier statement, China's Embassy in Manila said a Chinese fishing boat was "besieged" by seven to eight Filipino boats as it was berthed near Recto Bank last June 9. The Chinese vessel then "accidentally" hit the Filipino boat as it was trying to escape, China said. It also added that the Chinese crew was forced to abandon the Filipino fishermen, "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats." It claimed the Chinese vessel only left when other local boats came to rescue the Filipino fishermen.

Filipino fishermen dismissed these as lies. They told CNN Philippines they were jolted from sleep when the Chinese vessel hit their boat at midnight, and that the foreign vessel quickly sailed away upon seeing them floating in the high seas. They also said there were no other Filipino boats in the area.

The Philippine Coast Guard said it has finished its probe, but has not disclosed the results.