By Roy Mabasa
University of the Philippines (UP) Professor and maritime expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal on Monday said China’s alleged harassment of a Greek-owned vessel manned by a Filipino captain near the Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc undermines the freedom of the sea and “threatens Philippine maritime interests” over the long term.
“The freedom of the seas (including seamless navigation through all maritime zones) is a concern of all maritime trading nations, especially an archipelagic State like the PH. CN’s (China’s) actions undermine this freedom, and thus over the long term, threatens PH maritime interests,” Batongbacal said in a series of tweets criticizing Beijing’s latest actions in Scarborough Shoal, a group of islands, atolls, and reefs which is about 120 nautical miles from Zambales.
Captain Manolo Ebora, the Filipino skipper of Liberian-flagged oil tanker M/T Green Aura, claimed that a “Chinese naval warship” accosted them while exercising the right to innocent passage near the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on September 30.
Batongbacal defended the Filipino mariner for his courage while calling out on Beijing’s “intentions and plans” in the volatile South China Sea.
“This civilian ship’s captain had more balls than someone and some gov’t agency I know. Just more proof of Beijing’s intentions and plans for the West PH Sea, and the entire SCS,” he said.
The UP professor, who is also director of the university’s Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea (IMLOS), accused China of further undermining its own credibility and commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea by excluding and attempting to block the ship.
“In re COC (Code of Conduct) discussions, CN also further undermines its own credibility & stated commitment to freedom of navigation in SCS, the norms of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), and int’l law. Excluding & attempting to block the ship was contrary to international law considering innocent passage right and COLREGS (collision regulations),” he added.
Furthermore, Batongbacal lashed out at Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo for saying that the latest incident in the Scarborough Shoal is not a concern for the Philippines but of the country that carries the flag of the particular vessel.
“This is just so wrong on several levels. When will someone stop Panelo from speaking out of turn on matters of foreign policy? … If an armed person sets up in front of Panelo’s house and tells everyone who passes by to stay away and tell them the area belongs to that person now, will Panelo think it’s not any concern of his?” the UP professor said in his social media postings.