MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has an informal agreement with China that allows Chinese fishermen to trawl in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, the President's spokesman revealed Monday.
Duterte earlier said he could not bar Chinese fishermen in the Philippines’ EEZ due to a "mutual agreement" he made with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"I think that was more of an informal agreement rather than documented," Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told ANC's Early Edition.
He said the informal agreement also meant that Filipino fishermen could fish in its own EEZ without being shooed away by Chinese fishermen. "It is being enforced in a way that we’re being allowed to fish there in the areas that fishermen could not at the time."
Panelo said the Philippines cannot enforce a 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that states that the Philippines' EEZ and in its marine resources are for the Philippines.
"The problem is as we have repeatedly said, we cannot enforce it except by way of force, which we cannot do," he said.
"Our solution is to negotiate, to be friendly with them. Things we could get out of this arbitral ruling, we may be able to get through negotiations."
Panelo warned lives could be lost if the Philippines engages in an armed conflict with China.
Asked why the Philippines is not reminding China about the PCA ruling, he said: "They have already responded to that. As far as they are concerned, they are not part of that because they refuse to be part of that arbitration. Can we do something about it? We can only protest as we always do."
"[We're] not really surrendering. We are friends, we are negotiating and we are getting what we want."
Panelo, meantime, defended the President from critics who said his remark was a violation of the Constitution and could be used as basis for impeachment.
"Why impeachable, I cannot even understand. He is precisely enforcing the Constitution, Section 4, Article 2. Ine-enforce mo na nga 'yung basis ng lahat ng provision," he said.
He said he agreed with the President that enforcing the exclusivity provision would be "courting danger."
"China would not want that. In other words, what benefit do you have if you enforce that provision then losing everything? He is going beyond the provision," he said.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier warned the Philippines could lose its EEZ and the West Philippine Sea forever if the government loses its territorial integrity to China.
"Why will we not accept and protect this exclusivity when the rest of the world is accepting and protecting this exclusivity? Surely, this exclusivity in the use and enjoyment of the resources in the EEZs, being the accepted norm in all civilized states of the world without exception, is not 'thoughtless and senseless,'" Carpio said.
The President has threatened imprisonment for those who are planning to file an impeachment complaint against him.
The Philippines has long been involved in a maritime dispute with China, which claims nearly all of the South China Sea.
Relations between the two nations have improved considerably under Duterte, who set aside the 2016 United Nations-backed arbitral ruling invalidating China's claims for enhanced ties.