Tell It to SunStar: Lives matter

By Jesus Sievert

PRESIDENTIAL Spokesman Salvador Panelo is seen to having always the penchant to be funny or to be very casual or carefree during media briefings.

There is nothing wrong with it really as it makes the event more spontaneous, livelier, and in many ways informative.

But certainly not all press briefings are lighthearted and jovial. It can also be serious and consequential that should be treated by any Malacañang mouthpiece with utmost concern and trepidation because of its circumstances..

I am referring particularly to the recent regrettable incident where a Chinese vessel that introduced itself as a “naval warship” harassed a Filipino-crewed crude oil tanker in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on Sept. 30. As a backgrounder the Scarborough Shoal was the site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China. The standoff erupted when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.

The US brokered a deal for the Philippines and China to withdraw their respective ships from the resource-rich fishing ground, “but China refused to follow” even though the Philippines pulled out its Navy flagship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar. In the process China aggressively and haughtily placed Scarborough Shoal, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales and is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, under its control to this day.

So this is the situation when ship captain Manolo Ebora and his crew of 21 fellow Filipinos onboard the Liberia-flagged, Greek-owned crude oil tanker Green Aura were passing six nautical miles from Scarborough, or Panatag, Shoal off Zambales at around 7:30 pm on September 30 when their radar detected the presence of several Chinese vessels in the vicinity, many of them registered as belonging to China Coast Guard (CCG).

That the Green Aura was accosted/harassed by the CCG arrogantly feigning as a “naval warship” is to me par for the course considering that the presence Chinese military vessels in the area is palpable and irrefutable.

Although Ebora showed bravado at first by imposing his competence and knowledge of the area and of the law of the sea, pointing out that they had the right to innocent passage, thus, resisting to change course when ordered by the CCG which claimed that the area “is under the jurisdiction of Chinese Government, at the end he relented and veered away when he noticed that one of the nearby vessels, China Coast Guard 3302, started moving towards the Green Aura’s path in what he perceived as an attempt to block their path.

While why and how the CCG reacted towards the Filipino-crewed crude oil tanker is a foregone conclusion, what is dismaying and disturbing, however, is Panelo’s point of view that the regrettable incident at the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal is not a concern of the Philippine Government since the Filipino-crewed ship was a foreign-flagged one. What a porous bone of contention if I have ever heard of one! I mean whatever and whoever passes in our territorial waters, disputed or not, is government’s concern. It is not just about the vessel, but more than that it is the people manning the vessel. Lives matter and because they are Filipinos the more it should matter to government.