FILIPINO fishermen whose boat was rammed by a Chinese fishing boat in 2019 have received P6 million in damages, according to the Philippine Justice department.

The 22 fishermen got the payment on May 16, which they will divide among themselves Justice Undersecretary Adrian Ferdinand S. Sugay told reporters in a Viber message on Wednesday.

Last year, the Philippines demanded P12 million in compensation to cover the boat’s repairs, the fishermen’s lost income for six months and moral damages.

The Chinese vessel sank the Philippine boat, which came from Occidental Mindoro, in a June 2019 collision near Reed Bank in the South China Sea, leaving the 22 Filipino fishermen at sea. A Vietnamese fishing boat later rescued them.

The Philippine Defense department had said the collision was not accidental and appeared deliberate.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte had dismissed the collision as a “little maritime accident” and rejected the pleas of Filipino fishermen demanding a firmer stance to protect their rights in the disputed waterway.

China claims sovereignty over more than 80% of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes. It has occupied and built artificial islands on the disputed reefs complete with runways and military installations, alarming the US and its allies.

A United Nations-backed tribunal in 2016 voided China’s claim to the sea based on so-called nine-dash line map. — J.V.D. Ordoñez