Not our concern? Philippines relies on foreign ships for trade, maritime expert tells Panelo
In a documentary released by the camp of former Rep. Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna) in March 2019, fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales narrated how Chinese Coast Guard personnel have been harassing them in Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Facebook screengrab/Neri Colmenares, File
Not our concern? Philippines relies on foreign ships for trade, maritime expert tells Panelo
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - November 4, 2019 - 12:39pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:37 p.m.) — Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo should stop speaking on matters of foreign policy, a maritime law expert said.

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, slammed Panelo's remarks that the harassment of a Greek-owned vessel in the West Philippine Sea is not the country's concern.

"Even if it is Greek vessel, it should be our concern, because (the Philippines) relies on foreign-flagged vessels for international trade," Batongbacal tweeted Monday morning.

According to Batongbacal, only 101 ships are registered with the Philippine flag and foreign ships carry out the country's international trade.

According to a report from Rappler, a Chinese vessel that identified itself as "naval warship" radioed Greek-owned, Liberian-registered oil tanker Green Aura to steer away from Scarborough or Panatag Shoal.

Green Aura's Filipino captain Manolo Ebora refused to change the tanker's course and came within about six nautical miles from the shoal.

The Chinese warship, which introduced itself as China's Coast Guard, claimed jurisdiction over Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales province.

Batongbacal said the government's silence on Beijing's assertion of jurisdiction against the Greek tanker with Filipino crew members is a "sign of acquiescence to such jurisdiction" before a third party and before the whole world.

"This is like saying (the Philippines) is not concerned that (China) exercises jurisdiction over Scarborough against any other State," Batongbacal said.

"It's like a person not caring that his house is being managed by someone else who claims to be the owner, and makes other people recognize he is the real owner," he added.

The maritime law expert stressed that freedom of the seas, including seamless navigation through all maritime zones, is a concern for all maritime trading nations, including the Philippines.

China's actions in the West Philippine Sea undermine the freedom of the seas and threaten Philippine maritime interests, according to Batongbacal.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson shared the same sentiments, saying Panelo's statement on the issue should be a cause for concern.

"A Liberian ship navigating the waters within the Philippines EEZ being blocked by Chinese authorities is not our country’s concern? The Malacañang official who posited the idea should be our concern," Lacson tweeted.

Panelo said the incident does not concern the country as the affected watercraft was not a Philippine vessel.

"For as long as they do not touch the Philippine ship or vessel, it will be the concern of that country that carries the flag of that particular vessel," Panelo said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, on the other hand, called on China to respect international maritime law and reiterated the call for all countries to respect freedom of navigation and passage in the West Philippine Sea.

Lorenzana stressed that Scarborough Shoal is well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and the 2016 arbitral ruling declared the area as a common fishing ground.

More than three years after the arbitral award was issued, Beijing still refuses to acknowledge the ruling that invalidated its historic claims over the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

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