Friendship: Universal life saver

Any decent sailor would not let innocents go down with a sinking ship. Any country that plays fair would own up to maritime errors and try to make amends.
But that’s not what happened on June 9 when a Chinese vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea. The Chinese took off, leaving the scene without regard for the Filipino crew on board. Accidental or not, the act is cowardly and reprehensible, to say the least.
Badly damaged, the fishing boat Gem-Ver was abandoned by the Chinese ship and left to sink. The 22 Filipino fishermen aboard floundered at sea for hours until two courageous fishermen rowed a small boat and sighted a Vietnamese fishing boat.
“Philippines-Vietnam, Friends,” they called out to the boat.
The three life-saving words would lead to their rescue.
The Vietnamese fishermen had at first feared the Filipinos were pirates. But they saw the latter shivering and frantically shaking their hands and repeating, “Philippines-Vietnam, Friends.” They understood the universal language of friendship.
Meanwhile, in a lame effort to cover up the hit-and-run behavior of the Chinese vessel, China’s embassy in Manila said the Chinese fishermen fled for fear of being “besieged” by Filipino boats nearby.
That really insults our intelligence. If that were true, why did it take hours for the fishermen to be rescued by the Vietnamese?
China has sophisticated satellites that monitor the area constantly. That they didn’t deny hitting the boat and sinking it reveals that they knew what really happened. Instead of protecting the culprits, China could do better by apologizing and rectifying the matter.
Fuel to fire

Sadly, rubbing salt to their wounds, President Duterte himself and other government officials downplayed and dismissed the fishermen’s near-death ordeal as an ordinary “maritime incident.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III even claimed the boat was not sunk at all and hinted the incident was staged, pointing to the Vietnamese boat that he said was conveniently nearby.
As if that ridiculous story was not enough, Sotto followed up with the quip about not knowing whether the fish came from China or the Philippines, therefore, both Chinese and Filipinos are free to fish even within our exclusive economic zone. Tell that to the fishermen who nearly died and to the boat owner who lost the fishing vessel.
There are calls not to blow the incident out of proportion, which is wise counsel.
But we should be wary of politicians exploiting the issue at the expense of the fishermen. The government’s attitude toward the incident is feeding the social media frenzy. Philippine officials’ lawyering for the Chinese on something where the Chinese are at fault adds fuel to the fire.
China Studies expert Lucio Pitlo said in an interview that this could be the most heated issue in the West Philippine Sea since the Scarborough Shoal standoff in April 2012, which prompted the Philippines to file a historic case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Had China immediately apologized for the June 9 episode, extended its sympathy and assistance to the fishermen and promised to punish the captain of the Chinese vessel, the incident could have died down quickly, with Filipinos even thanking China for its big brother gesture.
Humility and admission of fault make one a greater person because it shows one’s humanity.
Brothers at sea
Since ancient times, the South China Sea has been traditional fishing grounds for Filipinos, Vietnamese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Hainanese and other Chinese. Stories are told and retold of how they often shared drinks together after a long day of arduous work.
Before governments started intervening and laying claims to the disputed islands, no incidents such as the sinking of the fishing boat and abandoning of the fishermen happened.
In fact, the fishermen were brothers at sea, helping one another keep safe during storms and violent seas. In those early times, there was no United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which requires ships to help people in distress. Among the maritime brotherhood, there was no need for such a law or convention.
Government officials say calling China to task may mean challenging them to a war we cannot win. I really wonder if that’s just their excuse for copping out.
Whoever thinks this really lacks understanding of international relations. When will we learn to deal with others from a position of strength? China will never go to war with the Philippines for fear of American intervention by virtue of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
Citizenship, loyalty
Amid these developments, sadly, Tsinoys are caught in the crossfire, unwittingly becoming collateral damage. Filipinos make racist slurs against the Chinese and do not distinguish between the local-born Tsinoys, the jiuqiao (old settlers) and the xinqiao (newcomers). Filipinos question some Tsinoys for supposedly having double loyalties. They conflate all Chinese together.
Before 1975 – before then president Ferdinand E. Marcos signed the mass naturalization decree – 60 percent of Tsinoys were Chinese citizens, specifically of Taiwan, or the Republic of China, with which the Philippines had diplomatic ties.
Back then, some Tsinoys would claim – with humor – that China was their niang jia (娘家 wife’s family) while the Philippines was their motherland since they were born and raised here. The older generation who came from China, however, would claim that China was their motherland since they were born there and held Chinese citizenship.
But the granting of Filipino citizenship removed the last obstacle to the political integration of Tsinoys. Nearly 94 percent of Chinese citizens became Filipinos under the Marcosian decree.
With Philippine citizenship, they were no longer barred from owing complete loyalty to the Philippines, the only country they have known. The generation who came after these naturalized citizens are natural-born Filipinos who can run for national office.
In truth, some Tsinoys today go to the extreme of denying their Chinese roots. There is no need to do this, however. Tsinoys are comfortable with their Filipino identity though fiercely proud of their cultural heritage and ancestral origins.
The affinity with China is cultural; not political or even economic. What is earned in the Philippines is plowed back to the Philippines. This does not benefit China. Instead, it generates employment and profits for Filipinos. Many Filipinos don’t realize this.
The ramming of the Philippine vessel by a Chinese boat that left Filipino fishermen to fend for themselves is indefensible, no matter the circumstances.
As Tsinoys, we collectively denounce the inhumanity of the Chinese fishermen. We are one in condemning the wrong done by the Chinese vessel to us.
Our Kaisa credo says, “Our blood may be Chinese, but our roots grow deep in Philippine soil, our bonds are with the Filipino people.” These words are deeply ingrained in us and it is the faith and belief by which we abide.