Last week a Philippine fishing vessel, AXL John, was “rammed” by a “Chinese” vessel, leaving one dead and 4 missing.
This is what has been gathered:
– — The Philippine Coast Guard reported the likely vessel was the MV Peach Mountain, registered in Hong Kong. It was allegedly the only foreign vessel in the area at the time. The captain of the Philippine boat, Herman Balmores, confirmed the ship that hit them had Hong Kong markings.
– — The Coast Guard said the Peach Mountain was about 130 miles from the area at the time of the incident. However the vessel could still have been the culprit depending on how fast it was travelling. Navy Vice-Admiral Alexander Pama: “It is possible the ship went faster and it is also possible it maintained its speed. However this is not a definitive conclusion.”
– — Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin: “It is possible it was the Peach Mountain that hit them. It’s also possible it was not the Peach Mountain”. He also said the vessel had no HK markings. Even if it had, he added, “it does not mean it is owned by the Chinese or the Chinese Government”.
– — Malacanang stated the vessel was not the MV Peach Mountain.
– — As of the latest, the Coast Guard says the Peach Mountain “remains the primary suspect”.
So much for clarity.
The Aquino Government has made transparency a cornerstone of its administration. It went so far as to establish the impressive sounding Presidential Communications Development and Stategic Planning Office headed by three spokespersons of Cabinet rank; to ensure no truth is left unspoken.
Yet in the matter of the AXL John, the Government cannot speak with a straight face and the question is why.
It is possible the authorities do not know who really rammed our vessel. In that case just say so rather than give us varying versions of differing conclusiveness.
It is also possible they know the culprit but are waffling for fear of upsetting our people and exacerbating an already tense relationship with China.
Filipinos are angry with China over the Scarborough affair. They are angry with that country for stopping their tourists from visiting the Philippines, for allowing our banana exports to rot in their ports and for threatening us with all sorts of nasty things if we should elevate our concerns with the international community. The report that a supposedly Chinese-owned ship has now hit-and-run one of our own, killing five countrymen and leaving the survivors to fend for themselves; is adding to the fire.
The Government is caught between containing this national ire and not offending the sensibilities of China in the midst of the Scarborough discussions. Is Malacanang’s solution to cover up the AXL John incident?
The Palace has said the rogue vessel was not the Peach Mountain despite the Coast Guard’s inclinations to the contrary. Two high Defense officials have given differing versions of the incident with the appropriate disclaimers as to the ownership of the vessel. This seems designed to appease China and show them how nice we are.
Unfortunately “niceness” is unlikely to buy us any form of goodwill. As we have seen elsewhere, China, the super power, views the world in terms of commercial interests and “real politik”. This allows little room for niceties particularly concerning diminutive players like ourselves.
We tried a policy of appeasement when we did not attend the Nobel Peace Prize awarding of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, when we presented them an advance copy of the Luneta hostage taking; and when we act as an apologist for the Peach Mountain. We had hoped then China would spare the lives of the three Filipino drug mules and are hoping now it will be more conciliatory over the Scarborough matter. Well our three countrymen were executed and China will not drop its claim on Scarborough (or the Spratlys, for that matter). At stake are bigger issues like oil and gas deposits, similar disputes with Japan and Vietnam, and control of strategic sea-lanes.
A policy of accommodation has evidently done little to assuage a country increasingly impatient with us. If anything, kowtowing to their greater might only earns us their disdain. What they recognize is intestinal fortitude and pride and so that is what we should display.
If the price of our honor is an awkward relationship and fewer tourists, then so be it.