By Arjay L. Balinbin and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras

CABINET Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles on Sunday said there will be a joint cluster meeting on Monday to tackle the reported sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel.

The incident occurred on June 9 near Recto Bank in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

For its part, a Chinese-Filipino business group has expressed interest to offer assistance and support to the 22 Filipino fishermen rescued by the crew of a Vietnamese ship.

Mr. Nograles said the incident will be discussed by the Security, Justice and Peace Cluster under Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana and the Economic Development Cluster under Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III.

Mr. Nograles also clarified reports that the Palace had canceled a special Cabinet meeting on the matter.

Ang alam naman po natin na ang puwede lang magpatawag ng meeting ay si President (What we know is that the only official who can call a Cabinet meeting is the President). So siyempre (of course), it is up to his availability…. But meron kaming ini-schedule na meeting ngayon (we are scheduling a meeting now), it’s a cluster meeting,” Mr. Nograles said in an interview with DZBB on Sunday afternoon.

He added that the meeting can be considered a Cabinet meeting if the President is present. “I don’t think makaka-attend siya (he can attend). Puno ‘yong schedule niya tomorrow (His schedule tomorrow is full),” the cabinet secretary said, as he cited the President’s scheduled attendance at an event in Cavite City on Monday afternoon commemorating the 121st anniversary of the Philippine Navy.

Kaya hindi siya pwede doon sa proposed time ng cluster [meeting] (That is why he is not available at the proposed time of the cluster meeting),” Mr. Nograles said.

“He (the President) will process whatever itong mapagkasunduan namin or kung ano po ‘yong mga rekomendasyon namin (The President will process whatever decisions or recommendations will be made),” Mr. Nograles also said.

“Ultimately si Pangulo ang magdedesisyon (it is the President who will decide on the matter),” he added.

Mr. Nograles also appealed to the public to allow the diplomatic process to work in resolving the issue.

Kasi kailangan siyempre ng diplomasya, kailangan ng mga experts on diplomacy ang mga mag-uusap usap dito (Because, of course, we need diplomacy, experts on diplomacy need the [inputs of the clusters involved]). Ang pakiusap lang po natin sa publiko (Our appeal to the public is) let the process work,” he said.

Mr. Nograles said it is too early to conclude that the Chinese government is not cooperating with the Philippines in resolving issues in the West Philippine Sea.

Huwag naman tayo magmadaling humusga rin na hindi sila susunod or hindi nila nirerespeto ‘yan….Hayaan na lang po siguro natin ang DFA na magsabi sa ating taumbayan (Let us not judge right away that they will not follow or they will not respect…. Let us wait for the Department of Foreign Affairs to update the public [what is going on]).”

The military earlier said the collision was “accidental,” but also confirmed that the Chinese vessel immediately left after the collision.

For her part, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo said in a statement on Sunday: “We strongly urge the Department of Foreign Affairs to demand from the Chinese government to find those responsible and recognize Philippine jurisdiction, so they can face trial before our courts. Justice for the 22 Filipino fishermen requires that our courts assume jurisdiction.”

She added, “Now is the time for a shift in policy, from being passive to being more courageous in asserting our rights. From bowing our heads in subservience, to holding our heads up high as a free and independent people. This is the time where our patriotism, Filipino pride, and love of country should come to the fore. This is the time where we expect our leaders to be true to their oath and speak, act, and do what is needed to defend the dignity of our nation, and every Filipino.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, for his part, said in an interview with DZBB, “Ito’y hindi lang isang banggaan ng dalawang fishing vessels. Sa akin, ito ay nagpapakita ng nakakabahalang mindset ng China na apihin ang Pilipinas dahil sa ating claims sa West Philippine Sea (This is not just a collision of two fishing vessels. To me, this revealed the alarming mindset of China, which is to bully the Philippines because of our claims in the West Philippine Sea).”

The senator added, “It should be taken in that context. This is not just an isolated incident. I see a clear pattern of bullying and intimidation.”

Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFCCCII) President Henry Lim Bon Liong in a press conference on Sunday said, “The FFCCCII (Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc.) wishes to offer our sincere assistance and support to our fellow countrymen the 22 fishermen in the immediate rehabilitation of their damaged fishing boat, so that they can resume their livelihood.”

“This is not an admission of guilt of any party, who is telling the truth or not. This is something we cannot ascertain. Ang target ng federation dito is really humanitarian so they can get back on their feet as soon as possible,” Mr. Lim Bon Liong also said.

“Right now we are coordinating with the proper authorities. Actually, we are talking also the Secretary of National Defense, [Delfin] Lorenzana whether the [Philippine] Navy can give us more information.”

“We will keep in touch with the fishermen to be able to estimate all the damages, kung magkano talaga [ang kailangan] (to know how much is needed)…I think kaya pa natin i-rehabilitate ‘yan (I think we can still rehabilitate).”

“I hope this isolated incident will not hamper the friendship between two countries….I think it will be a good idea to come up with a joint investigating panel. Whatever will…come out, I hope that the two countries will be prepared to bring back the friendship we have and preserve that friendship.”