The Philippines should uphold and assert its claim over the Scarborough Shoal by filing corresponding protests against China after a Greek-flagged vessel was harassed by a Chinese naval vessel in the waters under dispute, maritime expert Jay Batongbacal said on Tuesday.
He stressed that a protest would not prevent the flag state, which has jurisdiction over the Greek ship, from taking its own legal action.
The Philippines has every right to do so because it involves an open and public claim on the portion of the territories and authority of the Philippines, the rights of all ships to travel through the high and territorial seas under international law.
The Philippines should protect their legal positions. In this case, this is necessary, proportionate and justified. Whether a ship/crew is Filipino or a foreigner is meaningless and does not have to be a consideration.
If during the incident, the Philippine Government found it unacceptable for the Philippine Captain to claim national sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal, it may enforce disciplinary action on the individual to ensure foreign shipowners that such conduct is not tolerated by the government.
The minimum requirement of the Philippine Government is simply to issue a demarche in order to preserve its legal position. Such a declaration does not preclude the flag State from taking its own measures to interfere with the passage of its own flagship if it so wishes.
The Chinese vessel, which introduced itself as a “naval warship,” allegedly tried to block the Greek oil tanker from passing through Scarborough Shoal on 30 September.
The Filipino captain was undisturbed and went on his way to say that the contested waters belonged to the Philippines. The ship has successfully reached its destination.
On Monday, President Salvador Panelo slammed Batongbacal for allegedly “ignoring the dynamics of the issues on the ground” when he made his remarks about the government’s response to the incident.
The Palace spokesperson argued that the safety of thousands of Filipino seafarers could be endangered if the government took a legal position on the maritime incident.
This could lead shipping companies to believe that the Philippines is likely to interfere with their maritime affairs only because the Filipino is under their employment.
On the other hand, Batongbacal noted that it is important for the Philippine government not to let its guard down in the legal arena in the light of China’s unilateral claim of sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal.
The Philippine government must protect and defend its rights, independence, and territorial integrity even in the hypothetical legal arena of Scarborough, where the legal arena appears to be the only remaining one for the Philippines.
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