MANILA, Philippines – For Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, the reported harassment of a Filipino-crewed commercial ship by a "Chinese warship" in the West Philippine Sea is not the country's concern because "it's not a Philippine vessel."
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Thailand on Sunday, November 3, Panelo pointed out that the ship is "a foreign vessel, only manned by a Filipino captain."
"In a way, it's not our concern, because it's not a Philippine vessel," said President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman, when asked if the government would file a diplomatic protest.
"Well, for as long as they do not touch [a] Philippine ship or vessel, it would be the concern of that country that carries the flag of that particular vessel," he added.
Panelo, however, said China should respect international maritime law.
A Rappler exclusive report showed that Liberia-flagged, Greek-owned crude oil tanker Green Aura received a radio call from what claimed to be a "Chinese naval warship" ordering it to change course as it was passing 6 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) off Zambales on September 30. (READ: EXCLUSIVE: Chinese 'naval warship' harasses Filipino-crewed ship near Scarborough Shoal)
Ship captain Manolo Ebora, a Filipino, pointed out that they had the right to innocent passage and that the area is a territory of the Philippines. Green Aura also had a crew of 21 Filipinos.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana commended Ebora for standing his ground and handling the situation well. Lorenzana also called on China to respect international maritime law.
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.