“It was not a collision, but an ‘allision’,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin told Karen Davila on her morning talk show, Headstart, on July 3. And to his TV audience, he challenged, “I bet nobody knows that word but me.”
Lest we be called “boba” (stupid — feminine form), we looked for “allision” in the Webster dictionary online: allision is a noun, pronounced al·?li·?sion, meaning “the running of one ship upon another ship that is stationary — distinguished from collision.”
The allision of the Chinese vessel Yuemaobinyu 42212 upon the F/B Gem-Ver 1, a Philippine fishing boat anchored in Reed Bank in the South China Sea, and its sinking during the early morning hours of June 9, is what Sec. Locsin was talking about. He had denounced that the “bumpor” Chinese fishing vessel had turned around and left the 22 Filipino fishermen on “bumpee” Gem-Ver to the elements as “contemptible and condemnable” (philstar.com, July 6). On June 12, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana declared “the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel that abandoned the Filipino fishermen is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people.” He called for a formal investigation of the incident and appealed to authorities to take the appropriate diplomatic steps. On June 14, the Department of Foreign Affairs filed a formal diplomatic protest over the incident.
Secretaries Locsin and Lorenzana might have been commended for their swift reaction to the clear the “allision” by the Chinese vessel. But after a silence of 10 days, President Rodrigo Duterte brushed off the sinking of the Gem-Ver as a “little maritime accident,” repeating the exact words of the Chinese foreign ministry that it was “a small incident between two boats.” He effectively contradicted those made by his defense secretary, the Philippine Navy flag officer, the captain of the Gem-Ver, and the owner of the Vietnamese fishing vessel that rescued the distressed Filipino fishermen, all of whom saw the sinking of the Gem-Ver in a very different light.”
How jarring that on June 19, Junel Insigne, the captain of the Gem-Ver, backtracked on his first public statement that a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed his boat and abandoned them after their boat sank. Mr. Insigne now said he was then not sure about what really happened, triggering speculation that the government had coerced him and his crew into changing their story (mb.com.ph, June 20). Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol denied involvement in the deployment of policemen in riot gear at Mr. Insigne’s house where the meeting took place to award each of the fishermen with 30-foot fiberglass boat by the agriculture department so they could fish again. Piñol eventually resigned. (Rappler, June 27).
But amidst the to-and-fro by government over who should investigate the incident — Would there be separate or joint investigations, or a third party investigation? — the question that was bound to be asked was: Why was the Chinese vessel in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)? And, of course, when even Philippine Navy chief Vice-Admiral Robert Empedrad stated that what happened to the Filipino fishing boat was “not an accident but a deliberate maneuver to ram the smaller vessel” (The Philippine Star, June 16), the “allision” issue broadened to an EEZ issue and the landmark UNCLOS arbitral award to the Philippines of the West Philippine Sea. This is not the first time the Chinese have intruded into Philippine waters. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the government to put in place measures that can protect the rights of Filipinos and for the country to continue to assert its sovereignty in the its’s EEZ (msn.com, June 14).
“Don’t believe stupid politicians who want the navy to go there… That’s only a collision between two boats. Do not make it worse,” President Duterte said (ptvnews, June 17). He said that the Philippines could not afford to go to war against China, noting that a nuclear war could mean “the end of everything.” With that, President Duterte indirectly admitted that there was indeed an incident worth worrying about that threatened his love and loyalty for Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. And on top of that, he said that in a one-on-one meeting with Xi Jinping, he had allowed Chinese fishermen to fish in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea that is exclusive to the Philippines (Rappler, July 13).
Can the President, in his personal capacity, commit the country to such a special concession for his personal friend, the Premier of a country insistently claiming ownership of the entire China Sea and ignoring the UNCLOS decision? Maritime law expert Professor Jay Batongbacal said the Constitution is clear that it does not allow foreign fishing and said that this can be a basis for impeaching the president (UNTV News, June 28). “Treason!,” activists, concerned political leaders, members of the academe, and others cried. “I-impeach ako? Kulungin ko silang lahat. (Impeach me? I will jail all of them). Try to take it — try to do it and I will do it,” President Duterte lashed back.
But there will be no “collision” between the pros and the cons. The impeachment will be a numbers game, in Congress and in the Judiciary. A “collusion?”
The Judicial Bar Council has interviewed 23 applicants for the vacancy that will be created by the retirement of Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo this month. When the Court of Appeals and Sandigan Justices-applicants were asked, “Do you agree with the statement of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that allowing Chinese nationals to fish within our Exclusive Economic Zone is unconstitutional,” their common reply was President Rodrigo Duterte has the power of discretion even in allowing a foreign entity to operate in Philippine waters (“Supreme Court applicants: Duterte can allow China to fish in PH waters,” Rappler, June 26). The President has the final say on who would be appointed to the High Court. The high court currently has seven Duterte appointees among its 15 members. He will appoint five more replacements for the magistrates who are due to retire: both Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in October, and Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo and Francis Jardeleza in July and September, respectively. (philstar.com, May 29)
And the separate and co-equal Legislative Branch is begging the Executive to choose the Speaker of the House for the 18th Congress, while the Senate Speaker has been retained for lack of contest by the almost comical four-member minority block in a total Senate of 15 members.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate believes President Duterte’s announcement of his recommendation that there be term-sharing between Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco for House Speaker was “a move to save his administration’s ‘fractious’ coalition” (abs-cbn.com, July 8). “The cracks, though, are already very apparent in the once supermajority coalition. And, despite this term sharing for convenience, the different factions and their political and economic backers are expected to still wage a war of dominance in the coming days, especially with 2022 presidential elections already in the political horizon,” Zarate added.
Then why will the Liberal Party (LP) members in the House of Representatives join the House majority (already controlled by the Duterte group), as announced by Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice? (abs-cbn News, July 8). But this has happened before, when the other political parties wanted to coalesce with the other parties in start of Duterte’s term. Then-outgoing House Speaker and LP vice-chairman Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said it was to acknowledge Duterte’s “huge mandate” in the 2016 elections and the “usual hometown reasons” — meaning that if a district representative is a member of the minority, projects for that district would not be prioritized (Rappler, July 25, 2016).
There is a difference more than a choice of words between collision and allision, conflict versus attack — where the rights of the victim are at stake — in the unsteady and unprincipled collusion of any self-interest-based coalition of judgment.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.