MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping's verbal deal that allows China to fish within Philippine waters was "legally binding and enforceable," Malacañang reiterated Wednesday.
“Kung ano sinabi ni Presidente, iyon na. Yung interpretation ng iba eh kanilang interpretation iyon. As far as the President is concerned, he and [Xi] agreed on a certain [arrangement],” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a chance interview.
“It (agreement) is legally binding. Basta ako kung ano sinabi ni Presidente,” he added.
(Whatever the president said.)
Panelo's statements came after at least 2 cabinet officials said that the agreement was not a national policy.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. earlier called the agreement as "pointless" and insisted that the government cannot enforce it.
"The verbal agreement cannot be enforced on us, it's verbal. You need a document to prove an agreement. That's the way it is," Locsin said.
"I have said worse things, but the question is: is it policy? It's not policy," he added.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles also called the deal as simply “an agreement to agree” to start talks on a possible agreement in the West Philippine Sea.
“Unless it (verbal agreement) is translated formally into writing, then it is just an agreement to become good neighbors,” Nograles said.
But Panelo claimed that the transcript of the meeting between both leaders in 2016 when the deal was made can be considered a formal document.
“Hindi totoo na walang document. Mali yung interpretation na walang document. That has been recorded officially so there is a record of that,” he said.
Panelo, however, explained there is no need to release the transcript to the public, as the President has already publicly articulated the terms of the deal.
The Philippines and China have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, where China has reclaimed land and airstrips and other military facilities. Duterte has largely set aside the Philippines' row with Beijing to court trade and investments, but also occasionally criticized China's actions there.