By Business Mirror, June 23 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

A GRATIFYING side story to the Asean Leaders summit in Thailand is the personal expression of Filipinos’ gratitude to Vietnam for the rescue of 22 Filipino fishermen who were abandoned at sea by a Chinese vessel that hit their boat at Recto Bank on June 9, causing it to sink.

During the Summit, which ended on Sunday, President Duterte expressed his gratitude to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Puc for the act of Vietnamese fishermen during the Recto Bank incident, the Philippine News Agency quoted presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo as saying.

According to Panelo, Duterte told Nguyen that “this act of kindness and compassion will always be remembered by the Philippines and its people.”

Certain Philippine officials were earlier criticized for even mentioning that the Vietnamese fishing boat that rescued the Filipinos would not have been in the area if they were themselves not also engaged in illegal fishing in waters forming part of the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Vietnam has been supportive of the Philippines’s earlier move to question China’s “excessive” maritime claims in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety. Hanoi itself has had maritime run-ins with the Chinese in the past years.

The Philippines and Vietnam have enjoyed robust bilateral relations, not just economically but in terms of people-to-people exchange, with the Philippines having provided two of the biggest and most successful refugee processing centers for the so-called “boat people” fleeing Vietnam in the 70s.

In previous interviews, Filipino fishermen in waters that China is contesting have said that the Filipinos and Vietnamese have a positive “modus vivendi” in disputed waters, even engaging in barter occasionally and never being  involved in hostile acts against each other.