‘Hostis humani generis’ | Inquirer Opinion

‘Hostis humani generis’

/ 04:10 AM December 13, 2023

During the murderous rampage of the militant group Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7, four Filipino nationals were killed. Another two were considered missing and believed to have been taken hostage. Thankfully, as of Nov. 28, both have been accounted for following their respective release from captivity during the temporary ceasefire. However, this war between Israel and Hamas has placed at risk another group of Filipinos following the decision of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels to enter the fray by attacking in the vicinity of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden commercial ships they believed to be linked to Israeli business interests.

On Nov. 19, Houthi rebels seized in the southern Red Sea the MV Galaxy Leader, a British-owned and Japanese-operated cargo ship whose company is a unit of Tel-Aviv incorporated Ray Shipping. It has a crew of 25 from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Mexico, and 17 from the Philippines.

Not long after that incident, Houthi rebels once again allegedly tried to seize the chemical tanker MV Central Park in the Gulf of Aden on Nov. 26. It had two Filipino crew members onboard. Luckily for them, the attempted attack was thwarted when a US Navy warship assisted by a Japanese naval vessel responded to its distress call. The US Navy was able to apprehend five of the suspected attackers.

This fortunate turn of events was made possible because of the presence in the area of the multinational Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151) established in 2009, with a specific piracy mission-based mandate. The task force has been endorsed under United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 2608 (2021) aimed at protecting the free flow of commerce. The task force was put in place in response to the prevalent acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia by armed gangs of local Somali warlords and clans. It may be recalled that between 2006 to 2011, when incidents of piracy in the area were prevalent, 748 Filipinos were held in 61 vessels hijacked by Somali pirates.


It is thus to the country’s interest to be part of CTF 151. While the Philippines has not contributed any of its vessels to the task force, it has always had a naval officer detailed to CTF 151 as a liaison officer to its headquarters in Manama, Bahrain. Command of CTF 151 is rotated among the participating nations on a three-to-six-month basis. Captain Mateo Carido of the Philippine Navy assumed command of CTF 151 on Aug. 21 this year.

The ground war in Gaza is one thing; these attacks on commercial ships by Houthi rebels are another matter entirely. There is no justification for their actions, which are essentially an act of piracy on the high seas. They threaten maritime security by endangering the welfare of seafarers and the security of navigation and commerce. As such, they are considered as “hostis humani generis” or “enemy of all mankind.” Under Article 100 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, all states have an obligation to cooperate fully in the repression of piracy, and have universal jurisdiction on the high seas. Under that legal framework, there is no impediment to CTF 151 and any other force in the area to take necessary measures against these Houthi pirates. This would prevent other ships from getting hijacked and ensure the safety of Filipino seafarers at sea.

Meanwhile, 17 Filipino seafarers and their fellow crew members in the MV Galaxy Leader are still being held by Houthi pirates. Strong efforts must be made to compel their release without condition and without further delay. It is thus a good sign that President Marcos has decided to cancel his participation at the COP28 climate change summit in Dubai due to “important developments in the hostage situation involving 17 Filipino seafarers in the Red Sea.” Taking seafarers captive is an international crime; the Houthis have no political reason to hold our seafarers nor make any demands for their release. Hopefully, this is a message our government can send to the Houthis’ Iranian backers so the freedom of these seafarers can be secured as soon as possible.

Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, and the Philippine Embassy in Washington.

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TAGS: Commentary, hostis humani generis

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