MANILA, Jul 2, 2019, PhilStar. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier revealed that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on a fishing deal in the West Philippine Sea as early as 2016. In a speech last week, Duterte claimed that he and Xi agreed that Chinese fishermen would no longer block Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal as long as the Chinese would have access to Recto Bank, reported the Philippine Star.
“Will you allow the Chinese to fish? Of course. That’s what we talked about before, that’s why we talked. And that was why we were allowed to fish again. It was a mutual agreement,” Duterte said at a speech in Malacañan last week.
According to Duterte, this was what he discussed with Xi during his first state visit to Beijing three years ago.
In the same speech, the president argued that banning Chinese fishermen in the Philippine exclusive economic zone would cause a problem.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, revealed that the two leaders did not formally sign documents on the supposed fishing deal in Philippine waters.
“That was more of an informal agreement rather than documented,” Panelo told ANC’s “Early Edition” Monday.
In a separate press briefing at Malacañan, Panelo insisted that the agreement between the two leaders were verbal.
“I don’t think they signed (an agreement). They just talk. You know world leaders they have a word of honor,” Panelo said in Filipino.
The Malacañang spokesman added that Filipino fishermen would not have been able to access Scarborough Shoal again if not because of the deal between Duterte and Xi.
Asked if the agreement was legally binding despite the lack of documentation, Panelo answered, “Why not? There is nothing wrong with it.”
“The president already revealed exactly what they talked about… He detailed what President Xi said, what he said, what the effect was,” Panelo added.
On matters of transparency, Panelo said the administration had been open that there was an agreement between the Philippines and China under the term of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
In June 2018, Cayetano disclosed that the Department of Foreign Affairs was working with the Chinese Foreign Ministry on a tentative fishing agreement but nothing was written yet.
According to Cayetano, the agreement was a consensus between Duterte and Xi during their previous meeting. The supposed fishing deal was being discussed by the bilateral consultative mechanism between the two countries.
Cayetano then made clear that the July 2016 arbitral ruling through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was being incorporated in the negotiations.
The Duterte administration initially called for restraint and sobriety when the arbitral award was issued three years ago but according to Panelo, the president might invoke the ruling at the end of his term.
Panelo, however, raised the possibility of not invoking the arbitral ruling if the Philippines already gets what it wants.
“If they agree with our demands in the negotiations, what else will we invoke? Nothing,” Panelo said in Filipino.