MANILA- Chinese President Xi Jinping's warning of "trouble" over oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea was more of a friendly advice than a threat, Malacañang explained on Friday.
President Duterte revealed on Thursday that the Chinese leader once warned him against drilling for oil in Manila's waters.
"Ako ang tingin ko, more on ano iyon, payong kaibigan," Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
(I think it's more of a friendly advice.)
"Hindi (It's not a) warning. I think the Chinese President was being also practical," he added.
Insisting that Manila and Beijing are friends, Panelo said Xi was simply giving suggestions to Duterte to avoid tensions in the area.
"You know, when you’re friends and you give some suggestions, you are not dictating," he said, adding that the Chinese leader "personally admires our President."
Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales stressed the disputed waters are within the sovereignty of the Philippines and that China should not be permitted to fish there regardless of Duterte's friendship with Xi.
“That is a personal agreement. The Constitution says that yung marine area is part of the national territory and it’s exclusively within the sovereignty of the PH. You cannot allow anyone to fish without the consent of the people,” Morales said.
China has conflicting claims with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which is rich in marine resources. It is also believed to have vast natural gas and oil reserves.
In 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated China’s 9-dash line claim over most of the South China Sea.
The ruling also made clear that the potentially oil-rich Recto (Reed) Bank was inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The area has been in the headlines in recent weeks following the June 9 allision of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese ship, which prompted a diplomatic protest from the Philippines.
Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were left at sea by the Chinese crew after sinking their boat. They were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
An investigation is underway to determine whether the allision was intentional.
Duterte has downplayed the incident as he seeks to avoid ruffling feathers in Beijing, prompting outrage from critics who want the Philippines to stand up to what they claim to be Chinese aggression.