Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday questioned the intentions of the Filipino captain who alleged that he was harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard while manning a Liberian-flagged ship near the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
After coming home to the Philippines last week, Captain Manolo Ebora recounted to Rappler the Sept. 30 incident, in which he was piloting the Greek-owned oil tanker Green Aura from Thailand to China. Ebora said that a vessel that identified itself as the Chinese Coast Guard asked them to stay away from Scarborough Shoal, which was about 12 nautical miles from the Green Aura’s location.
He recounted asking the coast guard vessel, “This is Scarborough Shoal. We are just passing. May I know, is this a Chinese territory water? I think it’s not a Chinese [territorial] water.”
The Chinese vessel allegedly responded by asking them to change course because they were in Chinese territory. Ebora said that at least five Chinese ships, which he alleged belonged to the Chinese Coast Guard and the Maritime Police, attempted to block the Green Aura, and even followed it when it left the area.
Ebora said the standoff lasted an hour, before he veered away from the Scarbough Shoal and shook off the Chinese vessels. The captain reported the incident to the Philippine Navy the following day.
On the ANC news program “The World Tonight,” Panelo — an outspoken advocate of freedom of navigation, particularly inside of the Philippines’ own sovereign exclusive economic zone — came to the staunch defense of his countryman.
He got all pissy, insinuated that the captain was making trouble, insisted that the harassment by the Chinese vessel was no biggie, and added that, furthermore, the government wouldn’t be raising the issue formally because it didn’t want to “offend” China. (Congratulations, Sal. Your administration is officially more spineless than the NBA.)
“What puzzles us is why did he take that route?” Panelo asked in Filipino. “It seems intentional. Like he wanted to start an incident.”
The spokesperson went on to say that the alleged harassment of the Liberian-flagged ship was a non-issue, adding that the government has no plans to protest the issue (which, again, took place in the Philippines’ own waters) because this would somehow put the livelihood of thousands of Filipino sailors working abroad in jeopardy.
“We will not endanger, put in peril the 400,000 seafarers, plus we do not want to offend the foreign country being represented by that vessel by taking its right to assert itself,” Panelo said.
Ebora, who has 15 years of sailing experience under his belt, stood by his story and said he decided to steer the ship towards Scarborough Shoal because it was a safer route due to prevailing weather conditions at the time.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), meanwhile, commended the Filipino captain’s actions, but pointed out that they may have international repercussions.
“We are one with our people to really commend the effort of Captain Ebora in defying the order of the Chinese warship, and, in fact, I really laud him for his passion for nationalism in defense of our country’s territory,” PCG Commandant Vice Admiral Joel Garcia told CNN Philippines.
“The complication is this, we don’t know the foreign relationship of Liberia with China and the goods being carried by the ship commanded by a Filipino captain is owned by a Greek cargo owner which is intended for China.” Garcia added, “We don’t know the relationship between Greece and China.”
“We must strike the balance between our passion for nationalism and our obligation and responsibility to the 500,000 Filipino seafarers who are also working for foreign ships,” he also said.
The Green Aura safely arrived in Longkou, a city in China, on Oct. 6.
The Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Dao in China and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines, is one of many disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (backed by the United Nations) sided with the Philippines and invalidated China’s claim to parts of the West Philippine Sea, but the Duterte administration has nonetheless taken a soft line on the matter and continued to acquiesce to China’s presence in the disputed territory.
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