MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Thursday described as “tongue in cheek” his controversial remark defending President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that Chinese fishers can venture into waters where Manila has exclusive rights over natural resources.
Sotto drew flak online after saying that the “exclusivity” of marine resources is hard determine because “it’s under water.”
“The fish could be coming from China and the fish from the Philippines could be going to China," he told ANC.
Addressing criticisms on his statement, Sotto told reporters: “My comments on WPS [West Philippine Sea] and its resources was a tongue in cheek statement. Sadly konti lang nakaintindi.”
(My comments on the West Philippine Sea and its resources was a tongue-in-cheek statement. Sadly, only a few understood.)
Sotto told ANC he sees no problem with Duterte allowing Chinese fishers within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), “as long as we're allowed to fish also in their zones... because they will treat us as friends likewise."
Under the Constitution, all resources in the EEZ should only be for Filipinos, Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, earlier said.
Tension between Manila and Beijing recently reignited after a Chinese vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat last June in Reed Bank (Recto Bank), which is located within the Philippines’ EEZ.
Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were left at sea by the Chinese crew after the boat sunk. They were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel. An investigation is underway to determine whether the allision was intentional.
Duterte has downplayed the incident, prompting outrage from critics who want Manila to stand up to Chinese aggression.
Competing claims over the South China Sea are a point of regional contention because trillions of dollars of goods pass through it, and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters.