Duterte to meet captain, cook of Filipino boat hit by Chinese vessel – Occidental Mindoro town mayor

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The boat's captain and cook, who was awake during the incident, will tell their story directly to the President on Monday, the mayor of their hometown says. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 16) — President Rodrigo Duterte will meet on Monday the captain and cook of the Filipino fishing boat that was rammed and abandoned by a Chinese vessel in the Reed Bank, a local official told CNN Philippines.

San Jose, Occidental Mindoro Mayor Romulo Festin said he received instructions to bring Captain Junel Insigne and the boat’s cook, Richard Blaza, to Manila today. Blaza was the only crew member who was awake and saw the Chinese vessel hit the the fishing boat, F/B GEM-VER, around midnight of June 9.

The two were to be brought to Manila by officials of the provincial Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for the meeting with Duterte. Festin said he could not attend since he was preparing a resolution urging the government to fast-track the probe into the incident that almost killed the 22 local fishermen on board and sank the F/B GEM-VER.

According to the fishermen, they were abandoned and left floating in the sea for hours after the Chinese vessel crashed into their boat. But China’s Embassy in Manila had a different story. In a statement released on social media, it said the Yuenmaibinyu 42212 was “besieged" by some seven to eight Filipino boats. As the Chinese vessel evaded the boats, it accidentally hit the F/B GEM-VER. The crew of the Chinese vessel did not help the Filipino fishermen who fell into the water for fear of “being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."

However, Insigne said the F/B GEM-VER was anchored as he and his men were already resting when they were hit. The Chinese vessel immediately sailed away, abandoning them as their boat began to sink, he recalled.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles confirmed Sunday the Duterte Cabinet’s security, justice and peace cluster will have a joint meeting with the economic development cluster. Duterte, according to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea Sunday, had planned a special meeting with Cabinet officials over the incident on Monday but cancelled it.

Duterte has kept mum over the ramming incident in Reed Bank since it was first unveiled on June 12.

Military officials earlier likened the encounter to a “hit-and-run” incident, but this was denied by the Chinese Embassy.

The Philippine deputy permanent representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on Saturday cited the incident when it urged the United Nations body to prioritize the protection of lives at sea in cases of maritime distress. He said the crew of the F/B GEM-VER were "callously abandoned to the elements on the rough seas and would have perished." Presidential Spokesperson Salvadot Panelo said Malacanang was waiting for China's reply to a diplomatic protest filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs on June 12. He said that if the response was unsatisfactory, the government could cut off diplomatic relations with Beijing.

In a statement on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon called the incident a “bullying tactic” of China to assert its claim over the West Philippine Sea. In a 2016 ruling, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recognized the Philippines’ sovereign right over its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea which includes the Reed Bank. China has rejected the arbitral decision and continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea, including Reed Bank.