Despite Coast Guard-Marina report, Duterte insists Recto Bank incident ‘very small’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 8)— President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday reiterated his stance on the June 9 Recto Bank allision, insisting that the incident is “very small” because “nobody died.”

This comes after the release of the Coast Guard-Marina report, which classified the event as a “Very Serious Marine Casualty” ("casualty" is a maritime term for "incident").

“It is a serious... Pero (But) when you talk about marine transportation... it is a maritime incident. That is very small because nobody died,” Duterte told reporters during a chance interview in Malacañang.

The 13-page report detailed how the Chinese vessel failed to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), as it did not extend assistance after it rammed into Filipino boat F/B Gem-Ver. The 22 Filipino fishermen involved in the incident had claimed the Chinese crew abandoned them, and that they were only rescued by a Vietnamese boat.

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Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, in an earlier media briefing, said he sees no contradiction between the findings of the report and the remarks of Duterte, who had earlier dismissed it as a “little maritime incident.”

“In so far as the incident is concerned, given the fact that Filipinos were placed in a dangerous situation where they could have been dead, then that's a serious marine casualty. But when the President says it's not that serious enough to blow it into international crisis, that's what he meant. So both of them are correct,” Panelo said in his briefing Monday afternoon.

“It's serious in the sense that when you leave our countrymen there after that accident, then that's a serious matter. We will not allow that. You have to be accountable for that. But you cannot blow that and make it into an international crisis.”

China previously thumbed down the proposed presence of a third party in the Recto Bank incident investigation, after Duterte said that a “neutral country” should be part of the probe.

Duterte said the government is still waiting for China to submit its report, so the two countries can “compare notes.”