AMBASSADOR to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana yesterday said the Chinese government has apologized twice, although “verbally,” two months ago for an incident involving a private Chinese fishing vessel which hit and sank a Philippine fishing boat at the Recto Bank/Reed Bank in the Wet Philippine Sea in early June, and abandoned the Filipino fishermen.
He said the verbal apologies were issued in “late June to early July,” one by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the other by officials of the Chinese’ Commission on Agriculture and Fisheries, but the Philippines insisted on a “public formal apology.”
Sta. Romana made the statements hours before President Duterte was to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
“Actually, the Chinese government through the Foreign Ministry has expressed their sorry – they’re very sorry about the incident – through diplomatic channels already,” Sta. Romana said in an interview in Beijing.
He also said that during a meeting in Beijing between the Chinese and Philippine governments, officials of the Chinese Commission on Agriculture and Fisheries “expressed a verbal apology and gave us a verbal report which we have transmitted to the authorities.”
“But it was clear to us that, not only from the President but also from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he made it clear what we want is a public formal apology, written not verbal. And that’s what took a bit of time,” he said.
Sta. Romana said the Philippines demanded a written public apology and for China itself to explain the issue to Filipinos.
He made the announcement a day after the Department of Foreign Affairs said it has received a letter from the Guangdong Fishery Mutual Insurance Association stating that the unnamed owner of the private ship “would like to express his sincere apology” to the Filipino fishermen.
Chen Shiquin, president of the association, who signed the letter and sent it through the Fisheries Bureau of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said the incident at Reed Bank was “accidental and an unintentional mistake” of the Chinese fishermen.
Sta. Romana said the Philippines acknowledged how difficult it is to make a public apology. He said he believes the apology of the ship owner was a result of “intense negotiations” between the DFA and the Philippine Embassy in Beijing, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
“We’re on the cusp of a closure. I mean there’s still the compensation issue. But generally speaking, I think we have made a breakthrough. This apology of course represents the ship owner. But in a sense I think, through diplomatic discussions with the Chinese side, we have made it clear that this had a negative impact, had an adverse impact on the bilateral relations particularly on Chinese image. And that one way to correct this was through what you’ve seen: the public explanation, the investigation and the apology. So we welcome this development,” he said.
The private Chinese vessel slammed the Philippine fishing boat in Recto Bank, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, on June 9. The 22 Filipino fishermen were abandoned at sea after the incident and were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said China should apologize to the 22 Filipino fishermen now that that ship owner has apologized.
“I think they owe it to the international community to explain. With this apology, it is now clear that our fishermen were not at fault,” Yasay told CNN Philippines.
“If that conclusion will support the fact that Filipino fishermen are faultless, at one point in the future, that must be discussed with the Chinese so that maybe, perhaps the Chinese can come up with an official apology or an statement regarding this matter,” he added. – With Ashzel Hachero