MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte is right in allowing China to fish in the West Philippine Sea as it is an assertion of Manila's ownership of the waters, Malacañang said Thursday.
Since the Philippines claims to be the owner of the waterway, it is only fair that it grants the right to fish in the area, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo explained.
"Eh tama naman siya (Duterte) doon (He is right there), kasi (because) if you claimed to be the owner and if you feel that you are the owner, it is the owner who gives the right to someone who seek your permission to fish," Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
Duterte on Wednesday 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 had previously admitted that the Philippines could not drive Chinese vessels away from its waters since both countries claim the area.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety. Beijing has ignored a July 2016 Philippine legal victory where a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal invalidated it's expansive 9-dash line claim.
Duterte, who has been criticized for refusing to flaunt Manila's victory, earlier 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 could not bar Beijing from the West Philippine Sea.
The President's statement on granting fishing rights to China came 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.
China said the incident was not intentional. Filipino fishers, meanwhile, initially said they were rammed, but following a meeting with then Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, they said they were no longer sure.