By Felipe F. Salvosa II | PressOnePH

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo | PCOO LIVE PRESSCON SCREENGRAB

The Duterte government’s response to the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel fell into disarray on Tuesday amid conflicting statements over whether the Chinese ambassador would be summoned to the Palace for an explanation.

Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo reversed statements by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday that Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua had been summoned or invited to Malacañang.

“We cannot summon the ambassador. We do not have jurisdiction over the ambassador, we are not the government of China to summon an official of China. The word is ‘invite.’ But we feel—or the President, I think, is not inclined to do that because he feels, first of all, that they are already doing something, the ambassador has a statement about seriously and cautiously studying the facts,” Panelo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

President Rodrigo Duterte broke his silence on the issue Monday night in a speech during the Philippine Navy’s anniversary rites, dismissing it as a “little maritime incident.”

“Huwag kayong maniwala diyan sa mga politiko na bobo na. Gusto papunta ‘yung — papuntahin ‘yung Navy. You do not send gray ships there. Banggaan lang ng barko ‘yan,” Duterte said.

(“Don’t believe the stupid politicians. They want to send the navy. You do not send gray ships there. That’s just a collision of ships.”)

Panelo cast doubts on the story of the captain of the fishing boat Gem-Ver 1 that the Chinese vessel abandoned the 22 Filipino crewmen as their boat sank. The Filipinos were rescued by a Vietnamese boat.

The Palace spokesman said he did not know that only the boat’s cook was awake during the incident at midnight Sunday, and that the cook was unsure if the Chinese saw their boat. Panelo also pointed out that he did not know the Filipino vessel was out at sea, and not anchored close to the shore.

“Kaya tama si President (The President is right). The President is a very cautious person and as a lawyer he is trained to listen to all sides especially because there are adversarial claims,” Panelo said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson was among the many netizens who lamented President’s statements.

“The President broke his silence and left us heartbroken. He forgot to explore all resources available before exercising his last option of surrender. The MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) is one yet untapped weapon. I am not suggesting WW3 (World War III) but at least it can make China feel the balance of power in the West Philippine Sea),” Lacson tweeted.

Under the 1951 treaty between Manila and Washington, the US is committed to defend the Philippines, if its metropolitan areas are attacked by a foreign aggressor.