Possible loss of lives in sea mishap calls for media follow up
FOURTEEN FILIPINOS are still missing after the collision involving the Filipino fishing vessel Liberty 5 and the Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship Vienna Wood. The incident happened off the coast of Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro in the late evening of June 27, as reported to the authorities shortly before 2 am of June 28.
In the same month in 2019, a hit-and-run incident in Recto Bank lit up a furor of media coverage. Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were abandoned in the waters by a Chinese fishing vessel suspected to be a militia ship, after it struck the boat. CMFR’s monitor pointed out how government officials, including the president and the foreign affairs secretary reacted then by downplaying the damage done and the survivors’ being abandoned to their fate by the Chinese vessel, but who were eventually rescued by a Vietnamese ship.
The twelve fishermen and two passengers of Liberty 5 have not been found, as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported the end of rescue operations and the withdrawal of search groups.
In contrast to last year’s tragedy, the coverage of the Mindoro sea mishap has been subdued. Journalists followed the lead of the PCG and pieced together what happened, noting that the foreign ship has been held and docked in Batangas port. But there has been scant effort to check what government is doing to secure compensation for those affected.
Despite the history of maritime incidents in Philippine waters, the media seemed to show little interest in whether the government will be able to pursue claims for damages and the loss of lives.
CMFR monitored the coverage of three Manila-based broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin), four primetime news programs (ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol, TV5’s One Balita Pilipinas, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and CNN Philippines’ News Night) and selected online news sites from June 29 to July 7.
Coverage largely depended on the statements of the national and local Coast Guard, the agency responsible for search and rescue and initial investigation. Reports highlighted the facts that made this different from the 2019 incident: that the foreign vessel was a cargo ship bound for Australia, and that the incident happened within a commercial maritime route. Citing the PCG’s findings, news accounts said that Vienna Wood did not leave the area, but the crew failed to extend immediate help to save the Filipino fishermen.
Only the Inquirer and Star produced daily reports (June 30 to July 7), following PCG’s filing of charges against the crew and the owner of the foreign vessel. TV coverage was limited to the first three days of the search and rescue operations of the PCG; only TV Patrol followed up with the conclusion of the search and retrieval operations after ten days, clarifying that the local Coast Guard would continue monitoring the area as aerial and seaborne groups ceased their search efforts.
Only the Star and TV Patrol talked to relatives of the missing crew. Print and online reports on June 29 and July 1 carried statements from Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., who both pointed out that the incident had nothing to do with the maritime dispute between the Philippines and China.
Rappler called attention to Roque’s statement: what happened was just like any other collision that would be resolved according to admiralty laws. The Inquirer said Locsin’s first statement on the issue “echoed the statement of the Chinese Embassy,” which said the incident should not be politicized.
President Duterte was notably absent from the coverage. No one reported whether he knew about the incident and had anything to say about it. The possible loss of lives clearly warrants further attention from the media. Journalists must be ready to check how much is done by government to seek justice for Filipino survivors or the families of victims, regardless of the circumstances. And they must let the public know.