MANILA- While the Philippines still asserts its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, it is also giving China fishing rights in the area, President Rodrigo Duterte said early Wednesday.
Duterte said as far as he is concerned, Manila is the “owner” of the West Philippine Sea and is only allowing Beijing to venture in the said waters.
“Sabi ko (I said), ‘As far as I'm concerned, I'm the owner, and I'm just giving the fishing rights.’ Galit sila kung bakit ko daw pinapaisda (They’re angry why I’m allowing them to fish)…” he said in an interview over Pastor Apollo Quiboloy's TV program.
The President has courted criticism for his pronouncement that Chinese fishermen can venture into Manila’s waters.
Last month, tensions between the Philippines and China rose after a Beijing vessel rammed an anchored Filipino fishing boat near Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea. The 22 Filipino fishermen were then abandoned at sea and later rescued by fishers of a Vietnamese vessel.
Duterte had previously admitted that the Philippines cannot drive Chinese vessels away from its waters, explaining that both countries claim the area for its own.
“It’s not really a matter who owns the property. So we’re claiming it as ours. And as a matter of fact, we filed an arbitral --- we filed a case for arbitration actually, and we won,” Duterte said.
“But the problem is the property is not enough possession. It is with China who claims it also to be his property, their property. But you know, sabi ko nga kaibigan ko man si Xi Jinping (As I said, Xi Jinping is my friend),” he said.
The Philippines and China have long been involved in a maritime dispute as Beijing refuses to recognize a United Nations-backed ruling, handed down at the start of Duterte’s term, which invalidates its sweeping claims in the resource-rich waters.
Duterte last week said he would use his July 22 State of the Nation Address as an opportunity to "educate" Filipinos after outrage on his claim that Manila cannot bar Beijing from the West Philippine Sea.
"'Yung sabi nila na unconstitutional... maybe sa SONA, I will educate people na 'yung ginawa ko sabi ko 'you can fish', tama talaga ako," Duterte said.
(What they say is unconstitutional…maybe during the SONA, I will educate people that when I said “you can fish,” I was really right.)