WHAT President Rodrigo Duterte said was that China would not allow its nationals to fish within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone since Beijing treats Manila as a friend.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued this clarification Thursday, June 27, after he watched and read the transcript of the interview with the President.
"After watching the President's interview and reading its transcript, I have evaluated that it appears that what the President meant was China would not allow their nationals from fishing in our EEZ since they treat us as their friends, knowing that permitting their fishermen to fish in our EEZ would only result in an unwanted hostility leading to an armed confrontation," Panelo said.
Panelo said he had already sought clarification from the President, and the latter confirmed that he was merely emphasizing China's vow to stop its citizens from conducting fishing activities within the Philippine waters.
"In order to be certain of my evaluation of the interview of the President, I asked him about it earlier this evening. He confirmed that indeed that was what he meant," he said.
"He explained that his first visit to China resulted into a modus vivendi where China which claims ownership of Reed Bank, by virtue of historical right, would allow our fishermen to catch fish there, a place declared to be within our EEZ," the Palace official added.
Duterte's recent statement has prompted Vice President Leni Robredo and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to say that allowing Chinese nationals to fish within the Philippinez' EEZ was "unconstitutional."
Panelo, however, stressed that the public just got confused about the President's remarks.
"In fact, it seems that every one, not just the media, misconstrued President Duterte. I myself responded to this question raised by the same reporter, which was based on a wrong conjectural premise, and now obviously a misinterpretation of [Duterte's] quick retort," he said.
The President's remarks came in the wake of the June 9 allision between a Filipino fishing boat and a Chinese trawler near Recto (Reed) Bank.
Recto Bank is within the Philippines' EEZ and is part of the West Philippine Sea. China, however, is also claiming ownership of the area.
On June 9, the Chinese vessel rammed and sank the Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-ver which was anchored near Recto Bank. The Chinese immediately left the area and abandoned the 22 Filipinos, who were rescued later by Vietnamese fishermen.
Duterte has downplayed the incident and refused to invoke the Permanent Court of Arbitration decision on July 12, 2016, which ruled that China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights and that its nine-dash claim has no legal basis.
Panelo refused to comment further, pending the results of separate investigations conducted by Manila and Beijing into the incident.
"The fact is - we do not know if Chinese nationals were fishing there at the time of the maritime incident. Everything is purely speculative at this stage. Even during the allision, facts remain unclear if the Chinese vessel was fishing or only exercising their right of innocent passage," he said.
"It is thus prudent and in the best interest of all parties, to just wait for the results of the formal investigation," he added.
He assured the public that the President would not relinquish "as he is not relinquishing or waiving" the sovereign rights over the country’s EEZ in the disputed South China Sea.
He noted that Duterte had even urged China to participate in the drafting of a code of conduct in the contested waters.
"The Filipinos can rest assured that the President’s actions are all in accord with his Constitutional mandate to serve and protect the Filipino people," Panelo said.
"Maintaining peace and accord among all nations, as well as avoiding knee jerk and reckless undertakings in disputed areas, are only two of the many carefully studied moves of the President, in obedience to the said constitutional command," he added. (SunStar Philippines)