BEIJING, China - President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed that he will be taking up, although "only in passing," the rights of Filipino fishermen in the disputed waters when he meets with his Chinese counterpart on Thursday.
“I will mention it in passing. It’s very important because it’s livelihood," Duterte said during a press briefing in China, where he is on a state visit.
But the President quickly noted that he will not press the issue of ownership over the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
"We will not talk hard on who owns what because that is contested. Insofar as on the side of those who believe in the international court of arbitration, we have won. But on the side of China, that is not a verdict that is acceptable," he said.
Last July, an international arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines by declaring that China's maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea had no historical basis.
Duterte, however, has said that it was not the time to fight China over it.
"The reality there now is that there is a contest and a conflict and if you think there will be an agreement where we give or take or go into a compromise, that has not been taken up even locally,” he said.
What he can assure, he said, is that the two countries will definitely talk about the China Sea, maritime safety, freedom of navigation and security in the region.
“What we have I said is the agenda on broad outlines then we will engage each other in a bilateral talk which might really be long and that is the time that we can come up with hard agreements," he said.
Duterte, however, has been warned by lawmakers that he will be held accountable if he gives up the sovereign rights of the country.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman even said Duterte may face impeachment if he surrenders Philippine sovereignty to China. - With reports from Willard Cheng.