MANILA- For President Rodrigo Duterte, his verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping on fishing in disputed waters is “legally binding,” Malacañang said Thursday.
Duterte last month revealed that he had a 2016 verbal agreement with Xi that allows Beijing to fish in Manila’s exclusive economic zone.
"That is the position of the President, not my position. I’m just echoing the position as a spokesman of the President; if you cannot agree with that, eh wala tayong magagawa (we can’t do anything)," Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
Cabinet members have since given varying descriptions of the agreement, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. saying that it is “not policy,” while Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles described it as an “agreement to come to an agreement.”
Panelo noted that both Locsin and Nograles were not yet members of Duterte’s Cabinet when the verbal agreement was supposedly struck in 2016.
“They were not yet in the Cabinet, so baka that’s one reason kaya hindi nila nakuha (why they didn’t get it),” Panelo said.
"Kung iba ang interpretasyon ng mga kasama natin, they are entitled to their own interpretation," he said.
(If some of our companions have a different interpretation, they are entitled to their own interpretation.)
It was only last year when Locsin and Nograles both joined the Duterte Cabinet.
Asked if the 2 officials got the wrong interpretation of Duterte’s remarks, Panelo said: “Ano pa nga ba? Hindi iyon ang ano eh, hindi iyong sinasabi ni Presidente.
(What else? That’s not what the President is saying.)
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea and has refused to recognize a United Nations backed-arbitral ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims.
Duterte spoke of the verbal agreement with Xi weeks after a Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat near the Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea on June 9. The Filipino fishermen were abandoned at sea and later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
The Philippine fishers initially said they were rammed, while China said the ramming was deliberate.