Filipino fisherman recalls ramming, abandonment by China vessel

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — The only Filipino fisherman awake when a Chinese vessel rammed their fishing boat, recalled how they were abandoned by the Chinese crew on disputed waters.

Fishing Boat (F/B) Gem-Ver cook Richard Blaza traveled from Occidental Mindoro to Manila to meet with Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol on Monday. He was also accompanied by boat owner Arlinda dela Torre.

He said the Chinese vessel crashed their anchored fishing boat in Recto Bank at around midnight of June 9. He said the Chinese crew clearly knew they needed to be rescued, but instead turned off their vessel's lights and left the Filipino fishermen in the open sea.

"Inilawan nila. Noong nakita nila kaming lubog na, may lalapit na tatlong sagwan na hihingi sana ng saklolo, nag-atras na sila at pinatay lahat ng ilaw tapos sumibat na rin," he recalled.

The 22 fishermen struggled to stay afloat in the cold sea for almost three hours before a Vietnamese fishing boat passed by to rescue them.

"Inisip namin kung nabubuhay pa kami doon. Mabuti may Vietnam doon na nakapag-saklolo," Blaza said.

Piñol believes the incident was an isolated case.

"Ito ang unang incident na may binangga o nabangga na fishing boat ng Pilipino," he said.

The details of their meeting will be discussed in the Cabinet cluster meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte. San Jose, Occidental Mindoro Mayor Romulo Festin earlier said the Gem-Ver crew will be personally meeting with the President, but Piñol said he was the one who called for a meeting.

Presidential Spokesperson Sal Panelo said Malacanang is consolidating the investigation findings of both Philippines and China before it takes action. Duterte has remained mum on the ramming incident near Recto Bank, an underwater feature being claimed by both the Philippines and China in the portion of the South China Sea portion that Manila calls the West Philippine Sea. The area is seen as a potential flash point. Tensions have risen in recent years because of China's building of artificial islands and installation of weapons in the area that could be used to intimidate other claimant countries.