Duterte to fishermen in Recto Bank incident: 'Sorry, that's how it is'

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President Rodrigo Duterte extends his apologies to the fishermen in the Recto Bank incident last June 9 who felt that the government belittled their concerns.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 24) — President Rodrigo Duterte said sorry to the fishermen who felt that their concerns were being belittled after he called the sinking of their fishing boat "a little maritime incident."

"I'm sorry. But that's how it is. It's a maritime incident. Little in the sense that there was no confrontation, there was no bloody violence," Duterte told reporters in Mandaluyong City Monday evening.

He said the Chinese vessel's ramming of F/B Gem-Ver and leaving the fishermen adrift at sea on June 9 are not reasons to send troops to the area.

"Di kung gusto mo na gumanti doon... [If you want vengeance] That is not a reason to go to any military exercise there. Pag ginawa mo 'yan, giyera 'yan [If you do that, that's war]. So I'm sorry if 'yun ang feeling nila [that's what they feel]," he said.

Duterte earlier said he wanted to wait for the official result of the investigation and that what he has received so far is the preliminary information from the Philippine Coast Guard and Navy.

He also expressed openness to a joint probe with China and another independent body.

"But if they want another investigation, payag man ako [I will allow it], or they can always also investigate on their own and we can confront each other with our evidence," Duterte said. "Kung ayaw nila, okay lang [If they don't want to, it's fine.]"

While Duterte often visits victims of calamities, he has not yet met with the 22 fishermen. His administration has given them fiberglass boats, and loaned them P25,000 each.

Vice President Leni Robredo has paid the fishermen a visit, with her office giving P50,000 in donations.

The fishermen had earlier called for making Recto Bank -- within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea -- exclusive to Filipinos.

An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that China has no basis for its extensive claims in the South China Sea. It said China, by its actions in some sea features within the Philippines' EEZ, violated Manila's sovereign rights over the area.

The tribunal also ruled that Recto Bank is part of the Philippines' continental shelf, and that China violated Philippine sovereign rights when it stopped a petroleum exploration there in 2011.