MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's deal with Beijing that allows Chinese fishermen to venture in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone is "valid and binding," Malacañang said 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.
Panelo had said the deal was "an informal agreement" between the two leaders.
"Bakit naman hindi? Ano naman masama dun? (Why not? What's wrong with that?)" Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters when asked if the agreement was legally binding.
"Alam mo kahit sa batas, kahit verbal eh valid and binding 'yun basta merong mutual consent ang dalawang partido kaya nga agreement eh."
(In law, verbal agreements are valid and binding as long as there's mutual consent between two parties. That's why it's called an agreement.)
Panelo said government's duty to "protect and serve" the Filipinos as the legal basis for the agreement.
"Under the Constitution, Article 2, Section 4 it says the prime duty of the government is to protect and serve the people. The President is doing that," he said.
He said the President will not wait for China to wage a war that cannot be won by the Philippines.
"The basis is the President doesn’t want to risk the lives of our countrymen in disputed waters. Ayaw niya nang makarating dun, na makaabot pa sa bingit ng panganib. Kaya diplomat ang dating niya. Nakikipag-negotiate siya, nakikipagkaibigan," he said.
Panelo, meantime, reiterated that China has rejected a third party in the joint investigation into the Reed Bank incident, wherein a Chinese ship rammed into an anchored Filipino boat and left its 22 crew at sea.
Manila will, however, insist for a neutral third party if the two nations' findings on the probe do not match.
"Kasi kung hindi tayo magkakatugma, paano mare-resolve (If the findings do not match, how will it be resolved?). [It would be] some independent body, doesn’t have to be a country," he said.
Panelo said the results of the investigations will be made public once available.