MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has assured Filipinos that the “guilty party” in the ramming and sinking of a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea would not escape accountability.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Monday tried to allay public doubts as criticisms grow against the Duterte administration for its “inadequate and weak” response to the Recto (Reed) Bank incident where 22 Mindoro fishermen were abandoned after a Chinese vessel rammed and eventually sunk their boat there last June 9.
“We reiterate: There that will be no escape at accountability of the guilty party, nor a denial of compensation to the offended victims. Justice will be served, at whatever cost,” Panelo said in a statement.
Senator Panfilo Lacson also on Monday called government’s response to the Recto Bank as inadequate and weak, saying President Rodrigo Duterte’s stand on the maritime issue was not as “strong-willed” as his stand on other key pressing issues and concerns.
But Panelo said Lacson “has an amazing fertile imagination.”
“The President’s foreign policy is based on reason, not emotion. He is not swayed by the hysterics of nitpicking nationalists, who do not see anything good of what the President does,” he said.
Duterte has been criticized for calling the Recto Bank incident as a “little maritime accident,” adding that the Philippines should listen to China.
His administration was also criticized for approving a joint probe with China, with some lawmakers saying it was a subtle demonstration of the surrender of Manila’s sovereignty.
“Sovereignty, as we have repeatedly declared, is non-negotiable. It cannot be bartered. Neither can it be surrendered nor diminished,” Panelo said.
“We shall assert and protect our sovereignty, from any assault coming from any part of the world,” he added. “Let no man or country forget nor doubt it.”
“The welfare of the Filipino fishermen,” he said “is uppermost in his (Duterte) mind.”
“He is not waiting for the result of the final investigation, whether done separately or jointly by the two countries before he gives succor to their plight. All aid (has) been given them thus far to alleviate their personal situation.”
Panelo downplayed continued criticisms on Duterte over the Recto Bank incident, citing survey results.
“They have been rebuffed, time and time again by the overwhelming majority of Filipinos, in surveys after surveys, including two successive national elections,” he said.
“As the Chief Architect of foreign policy,” he said that “the President strikes a balance between the interest of the nation and the country’s security, as against the threat of potential war with another.”
“He maintains friendly and trade relations with other countries, even those with adversarial claims,” Panelo also said.
The Palace official, who also serves as Duterte’s chief legal counsel, said that “the President is cautious as he is pragmatic.”
“He is a tactician as he is wise. He presses the right buttons, at the right time. He is neither reckless nor tentative, as his detractors and critics picture – or want – him to be,” he said.
“The Reed Bank issue is a navigation incident, and the President treats it as such. The protocol on this matter shall be observed in accordance with International law or domestic law, whichever is applicable,” he added.
The Philippines has been locked in a long-standing maritime dispute with China over the South China Sea.
In July 2016, the Philippines sealed a historic win against China before the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, which invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line that sweepingly claims almost the entire South China Sea.
Beijing has repeatedly ignored the ruling. (Editor: Katherine G. Adraneda)
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