MANILA—China would not allow its fishermen to ply their trade in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Malacañang said on Wednesday, clarifying President Rodrigo Duterte’s previous remarks.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that was what Duterte meant when he said he could not bar Chinese fishermen in the Philippines’ EEZ out of friendship.
“It appears that what the President meant was China would not allow their nationals from fishing in our EEZ since they treat us as their friends, knowing that permitting their fishermen to fish in our EEZ would only result in an unwanted hostility leading to an armed confrontation,” Panelo said.
“He (Duterte) confirmed that indeed that was what he meant.”
On Wednesday, Panelo said the government would “tolerate” China’s fishermen in the EEZ, where Manila has exclusive rights to resources, based on a 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed court.
The President’s spokesman said that he himself “misconstrued” Duterte.
“I myself responded to this question raised by the same reporter, which was based on a wrong conjectural premise, and now obviously a misinterpretation of PRRD’s quick retort,” he said.
Panelo stressed that the President “will not relinquish” the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.
This after a maritime law expert warned that Duterte’s remarks could be used as basis for impeachment, while Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said the President’s statement violates the Constitution.
“The President, in order to advance our sovereign rights over our EEZ, has publicly urged China to join in the finalization of a code of conduct in the contested waters,” he said, citing Duterte’s push for the South China Sea code at the recently concluded 34th ASEAN Summit.
“The Filipinos can rest assured that the President’s actions are all in accord with his Constitutional mandate to serve and protect the Filipino people.”
Panelo, meanwhile, urged the public to wait for the results of the authorities’ formal investigation into the Reed Bank incident, wherein a Chinese ship rammed into an anchored Filipino boat in the disputed sea.
The report of Philippine maritime authorities on the incident has been submitted to Duterte’s office last week, a Cabinet official said.