MANILA - The Philippine sovereignty was not an issue in the alleged harassment of Liberian-flagged ship by Chinese naval ship, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Thursday.
On ANC's Headstart, Panelo said the government did not protest the issue, considering the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the seafaring industry.
"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.
According to reports, Liberian-flagged and Greek-owned crude oil tanker Green Aura was passing 6 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc when they were accosted by the Chinese who told them to "keep away" as the area was under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government.
Filipino captain Manolo Ebora, claiming innocent passage, insisted on staying their course and challenged the authority of the Chinese Coast Guard over Scarborough Shoal. The captain eventually decided to veer away after seeing that the Chinese started to tail their ship.
“Lalabas doon papakialam natin yung ginagawa ng foreign ships just because meron tayong trabahante Pilipino roon. Mahirap yun,” he said.
(It would appear we're meddling on the affairs of foreign ships just because we have a Filipino worker there, that’s hard.)
Panelo earlier stated that the incident was not a concern of the government as it did not involve a Philippine vessel.
During the ASEAN Summit in Thailand, President Rodrigo Duterte said freedom of navigation and overflight should be observed in the South China Sea. He also called on all South China Sea claimants to exercise self-restraint and refrain from undertaking activities that heighten uncertainty and instability on the disputed waters.
Duterte said land reclamation, militarization, and paramilitary actions in the South China Sea erode trust and confidence among concerned parties and exacerbate tensions in the area.