Gov't neglecting duty to defend PH territory – maritime expert
MANILA, Philippines – Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal likened to a "public surrender" the claim of Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo that it was "unnecessary" for the Philippines to file a protest over the harassment of a Filipino-crewed commercial ship by a Chinese "naval warship" in the West Philippine Sea.
Batongbacal added, in a Facebook post, that what Panelo said was also like government neglecting its duty to defend our country.
"To do nothing is tantamount to a public surrender of Philippine interest in Scarborough Shoal," said Batongbacal Monday night, November 4,
He added: "If the government is afraid of making even the minimum protective measure required, a statement to preserve its legal position, then it is not carrying out its solemn duty and stated promise to defend and protect the territorial integrity of our country, which has to be done in all arenas, including the legal arena."
Batongbacal said the Duterte administration's insistence on an "independent foreign policy" was likewise no excuse to "justify silence and acquiescence to an open, public, and clear declaration of Chinese sovereignty and jurisdiction over Scarborough Shoal and its surrounding territorial sea."
Batongbacal issued the statement in relation to a Rappler report that a Chinese vessel which introduced itself as a "naval warship" harassed a Filipino-crewed crude oil tanker in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) on September 30. The Chinese ship had also said Beijing has jurisdiction over the shoal, a claim invalidated by the 2016 Hague ruling.
Batongbacal's latest remarks come after he and Panelo were engaged in a heated exchange over presidential spokesman's claim that the incident was "not of concern" to the Philippine government since the Filipino-crewed ship was a foreign-flagged one.
This, despite the fact that the incident took place in Scarborough Shoal, which is in Philippine waters, according to Philippine laws. The 2016 Hague ruling likewise declared the area as international fishing grounds.
Referring to his call to reject China's claim it had jurisdiction over Scarborough Shoal, Batongbacal said: "The Philippines has every right... because it concerns an open and public statement about a portion of Philippine territory (Scarborough Shoal) and jurisdiction (EEZ)."
"Especially now that the legal arena appears to be all the remains for us insofar as Scarborough Shoal is concerned," he added.
Doing nothing at a cost: Batongbacal warned Philippine officials' refusal to file a diplomatic protest could affect the Philippines' legal position over Scarborough Shoal as well as the "safety and efficiency" of maritime trade, and the conservation and protection of the marine environment.
"China's action potentially affects the legal situation, and the Philippines' corresponding reactions should defend its legal positions. That is all that is necessary, proportionate, and warranted in this situation," he said, adding this would not deprive Liberia – whose flag the commercial vessel carried – from pursuing its own action on the incident.
"But instead, what has happened is even that legal position is undermined by a significant expression that "it is not of concern" to the Philippines that China exercises jurisdiction over Scarborough Shoal even to the point of interfering with lawful maritime navigation," Batongbacal added.
Aside from filing a protest rejecting China's claim of jurisdiction over Scarborough Shoal, Batongbacal earlier urged the Duterte administration to express "opposition or grave concern" over the Chinese ship's "unwarranted interference" to uphold international law.
Dodging the issue: Despite this, Panelo and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr refused to call out China over its harassment as they claimed doing so would compromise the employment of thousands of seafarers.
Batongbacal refuted this, saying the attempt to justify inaction was "off-tangent."
Batongbacal pointed out China could not directly threaten the livelihood of Filipino seafarers with mass lay-offs as it did not employ them. Threats to the Philippines' seafarers and maritime industry, he added, existed regardless of tensions in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea.
"If the government were really that concerned that the action of the Captain should not be a message to shipping companies of the world, the appropriate response would be to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him, which would assure shipowners that the government does not countenance private initiatives/actions such as those taken here," he said. – Rappler.com