By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

SPEAKING for the first time on the June 9 sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel, President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday described the incident as a “little maritime accident,” and reiterated anew that the Philippines is “not ready to go to war” with China.

In his speech at the 121st Philippine Navy Anniversary celebration held at Sangley Point in Cavite City on Monday evening, Mr. Duterte said: “In this matter of the incident na nagbanggaan iyong mga (on the collision of the) fishing boats… with all the galit (anger), even urging sending grayships doon sa (to) China Sea, alam mo gusto ko yan, kung ako lang. Gusto ko ng aksyon. (I want that, if it were up to me. I want action.) But I am not in my boyhood age anymore. I have a duty, a burden, sometimes more than I can carry.”

He stressed there are rules being followed by the government in dealing with the issue, saying: “There will be rules for a military confrontation; there will be rules for a mistaken identity attack; there’s a rule for fishermen’s boats. There is a rule for aircraft carrier bumping a fishing boat.”

“That is a maritime incident. ‘Wag kayong maniwala sa pulitiko na bobo. Gusto papuntahin ang Navy. (Don’t believe the stupid politicians who want to send the Navy.) You do not send grayships there… Alam na miscommunication ‘yan. (That’s miscommunication.) We are not ready in a nuclear war.””

Dalawang bangka lang ‘yan (Those are just two boats), now you go there and create a tension. Hindi ako gago na Presidente…. (I’m not an insane President).”

“It is a maritime incident. I will not issue a statement because there is no result of an investigation. Give the other party the right to be heard.”

Wag muna tayo makialam (Let’s not meddle). Do not allow a little maritime accident…”

Also on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol was named chairman of the government response to the controversy over the June 9 sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement on the Cabinet cluster meetings held Monday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said the government response will be “focused primarily on assisting the 22 affected fishermen, with Region IV-B CORDS (Cabinet Officers for Regional Development and Security) (Energy) Sec. Alfonso Cusi as as co-lead.”

“Sec(retary) Piñol has been directed to tap all available government resources — including assistance from DA and DSWD — to assist our countrymen, with components of the support package to come from other government agencies,” Mr. Nograles also said.

“Aside from this, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Region IV-B Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) have conducted initial inquiries regarding the incident to determine the extent of the liabilities involved and in order to ascertain the most effective legal means to obtain justice for our countrymen. These efforts will be complemented by further investigations to be jointly led by the Maritime Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard.”

Mr. Nograles said the “joint meeting of the Economic Development and Security, Justice, and Peace clusters was held to tackle issues relative to the West Philippine Sea/Reed Bank incident that resulted in the sinking of the fishing boat F/B Gem-Vir 1 that endangered the lives of its 22-man Filipino crew — who were later fortuitously rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.”

He added, “Initial action has already been taken, with the filing of a strongly-worded diplomatic protest that was handed over to the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Chinese Government on June 13.”

In an interview with ANC, Mr. Piñol said in part, “this is just a simple maritime incident which should be handled at our level. I don’t understand why people are blowing this out of proportion. In fact, some people have even come up with theories about CIA involvement.”

For his part, the captain of the rammed boat has backed out of a scheduled meeting with President Rodrigo R. Duterte due to an illness, according to San Jose Mayor Romulo Festin of Occidental Mindoro.

May sakit, kaya nag-backout. Tinanong ko kung ayun dahilan niyan, sabi niya, ayun daw…Wala daw kasing tulog,” Mr. Festin said in a phone interview on Monday. (He is not feeling well, that’s why he backed out. I asked him if that’s his reason and he said it is….He was not able to sleep well.)

Mr. Festin said Mr. Insigne, along with the owner of F/B GimVer 1, and the crew cook, were already in Roxas, Oriental Mindoro, at dawn when he asked to be dropped off.

Nandun na sila sa Roxas, Oriental Mindoro para sumakay ng Roro sa Calapan (They were already in Roxas, Oriental Mindoro to transit via roll-on/roll-off vessel in Calapan),” said the mayor. “Talagang hindi na raw niya kakayanin papuntang Maynila, kaya bumaba na daw siya (He can’t really go as far as Manila, so he just asked to be dropped off).”

“‘Yung iba gusto na nilang umuwi sa kanilang mga barangay….Ayun nga bibigyan ko ng pamasahe. Sabi ko, maghintay-hintay muna kasi darating pa ‘yung director ng DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) kung ano maiko-commit nilang suporta,” said Mr. Festin. (Some of them already wanted to return to their barangay…So I gave them money so they could go home. But I also told them to wait a while because the director of DOLE will arrive to commit their support.) — with Vince Angelo C. Ferreras