MANILA -- Malacañang insisted that the government of Greece and not the Philippines should take a stand on the incident involving a Greek oil tanker with an all-Filipino crew allegedly harassed by a Chinese warship near the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) last Sept. 30.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said meddling into the alleged harassment incident would “deprive” the government of Greece from protecting its own vessel.

“We cannot deprive the country being represented by the oil tanker of its right and duty to protect its own ship,” Panelo said in a statement.

“To do otherwise, will be effectively divesting such country of its right and competence to take the cudgels for its ship. Such a demeanor will be a disrespect to it and even insulting to the capability of that country to assert its right,” he added.

Panelo, also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, acknowledged that each country including the Philippines has the right to be protective and be concerned of the welfare of its citizens. However, he pointed out that there was no threat to the lives of the Filipino crew.

He criticized Filipino captain Manolo Ebora for “engaging in retorts about an issue sensitive to our foreign relations concerning our seas”.

The Palace official further asserted that invoking the Philippine’s dominion over the disputed shoal is “unnecessary” in this particular instance.

He also slammed a media outfit he did not name for reporting about issues that were “motivated by the play of politics”.

“The actions of the Republic of the Philippines cannot -- and should not -- be motivated by the play of politics aggravated by some media outfits’ penchant to churn out interesting articles for their readers,” Panelo said.

For Panelo, reacting to every incident perceived to be an affront despite being “disconnected” will result in “unproductive and disruptive knee jerk reactions”.

Process must be followed

Panelo, meanwhile, slammed maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal for insisting that even if the incident involved a Greek vessel, it should still be a concern because the Philippines relies on foreign-flagged vessels for international trade.

Echoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Panelo said that invoking sovereign rights over Philippine waters would put 40,000 seafarers and mariners at risk of losing their livelihood and give Greece the impression that the Philippines meddles into their maritime affairs.

“If we are to invoke our sovereignty to protest this incident, which did not result in any of our citizens being physically harmed, we will be putting at risk the employment of more than 400,000 deployed Filipino seafarers and mariners, by sending a message to shipping companies of our country's inclination to meddle with or interfere into their own maritime affairs for the sole reason that a Filipino is under their employ,” Panelo said.

Panelo said Batongbacal’s remarks ignored “the dynamics of the issues on the ground in an attempt to be relevant in expressing his square theories he learned from his books”.

He stressed that Batongbacal, who also teaches in the University of the Philippines, is “better off if he sticks to his perorations in his classroom”.

Moreover, Panelo explained that the Philippine government is already invoking sovereign rights over the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ) through a process that will not comprise the livelihood of Filipino seamen.

“Philippine sovereignty has nothing to do with the employment contract between the captain or the crew and the owner of the tanker, notwithstanding the former being Filipinos,” Panelo said.

“We will not be distracted by incidents such as this, hyped by personalities who detest the independent foreign policy of the President, and who want to change our course and resort to erroneous measures, to the detriment of the Filipino people,” he added

Reports showed that the Greek oil tanker “Green Aura” was six nautical miles off Scarborough Shoal when it received a radio call from a Chinese warship ordering the vessel to change its course.

Filipino captain Manolo Ebora maintained the Green Aura’s course and came within about 11 kilometers from the disputed shoal.

Claiming jurisdiction over the disputed waters, the Chinese warship moved in the direction of the Green Aura to block its passage and tailed it to drive it away. (PNA)