Panelo fumes at Lacson, says Recto Bank issue fueled by 'pretended nationalism'
MANILA, Philippines – The word war between Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo and Senator Panfilo Lacson over the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) incident escalated on Friday, June 21, as the Cabinet official seethed over the lawmaker's take on his statements about the controversy.
Panelo fumed at the senator for claiming he appeared to be lawyering for China when he questioned the account of Filipino fishermen of what happened in Recto Bank.
"The perception that my pointing out of certain circumstances surrounding the Reed Bank incident previously unknown to us, creates the impression that I'm acting as China's counsel, is sheer non sequitur as well as a shallow analysis of my examination of the incident," Panelo said in a statement.
In press conferences and interviews, Panelo had tried to punch holes into the recollection of Filipino fishermen by claiming that only their cook was awake when the Chinese ship rammed into their boat. But this was belied by statements of the cook himself, Richard Blaza, and his fellow crew members.
The fishermen's version of events had also been confirmed by the account of the Vietnamese crew who rescued them.
Panelo had expressed openness to China's claim that 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats "besieged" the Chinese ship, discouraging it from assisting the fishermen. But even Beijing had dropped this claim in its later official statements.
But the spokesman said by making such statements, he was only practicing his due diligence as a lawyer to "dissect a situation" and "arrive at an intelligent and rational study of the whys and wherefores of a subject of an inquiry."
The Duterte spokesman also hit critics of Malacañang's cautious response to the Recto Bank sinking incident, and claimed they displayed "pretended nationalism."
"The Reed Bank incident is being dressed with misplaced emotionalism and pretended nationalism by those who are bent on politicizing an otherwise ordinary navigation incident into an international fracas," said Panelo.
Lacson, in a tweet about Panelo's remarks, said he hoped the Duterte spokesman remained in good health.
"When one runs out of reason, he becomes violent and irrational. I hope he has a strong heart and has no blockage in his arteries [especially because] he is a friend," said the senator.
Panelo, in his statement, said Malacañang continued to condemn the Chinese vessel's crew for the "uncivilized and inhuman act" of abandoning the Filipino fishermen.
"There must be accountability and compensation," he said.
But he stressed the importance of waiting for the "finality of the results of the investigation, whether done independently or jointly."
"We appeal to the major players and kibitzers of the Reed Bank incident, to hold their horses and let emotions settle down, as we pursue to find a satisfactory and principled end to the issue," said Panelo.