Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo

MANILA — The incident involving the alleged harassment of a Greek oil tanker with an all Filipino crew by a Chinese vessel near Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) will not affect any progress made in crafting the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, Malacañang said Sunday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made this remark after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) bared that it is verifying the facts of the alleged harassment incident in the West Philippine Sea which took place last September 30.

“I don’t think so,” Panelo said in a press briefing in the Impact Challenger in Nonthaburi, Thailand when asked if the incident would affect ongoing negotiations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in the crafting in the COC.

Panelo said the Philippine government has no plans to file a diplomatic protest against China over the incident because it does not involve a Philippine vessel.

He also insisted that the incident is not the concern of the Philippine government despite the Chinese coast guard telling the Filipino captain that the Scarborough Shoal is Chinese territory.

“It does not concern us because it’s not a Philippine vessel. For as long as they do not touch the Philippine ship or vessel, it will be the concern of that country that carries the flag of that particular vessel,” Panelo said.

Panelo, however, said he agreed with the remark made by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana saying the Chinese government “must respect international maritime laws if it wants to earn the respect of the international community.”

“I agree and I think China should agree because China itself says that we should respect international law,” Panelo said.

Reports showed that the Greek-owned, Liberia-registered oil tanker Green Aura was heading to China from Thailand and six nautical miles off Scarborough Shoal when it received a radio call from a Chinese warship.

Filipino captain Manolo Ebora was quoted saying that the Chinese ship ordered Green Aura to stay 10 nautical miles away from the disputed shoal and change its course.

However, Ebora, a Philippine Navy reservist, maintained the Green Aura’s course and came within about 11 kilometers from the disputed shoal.

He said that minutes later, the Chinese warship moved in the direction of the Green Aura to block its passage.

The Filipino captain insisted on the innocent passage over radio call but the line on the other end introduced itself as the Chinese Coast Guard claimed jurisdiction over the disputed waters, and tailed the Green Aura to drive it away.

To recall, the Philippines lost Scarborough Shoal to China after a standoff in 2012 where China blocked Filipino fishermen from the disputed shoal.

This prompted the Philippines to file a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague asserting Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea in 2016.

It did not rule on which country has sovereignty over the disputed shoal but called out China for violating fishing rights of the Philippines.