PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte's administration is not surrendering its policy on the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) despite China's sweeping claims to nearly the entire South China Sea, Malacañang said Thursday, July 4.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued the statement, even as he admitted that China tends to ignore the Philippines's policy on the disputed sea.
Panelo maintained that the government cannot prevent China from venturing into the Philippine waters, since Beijing is already "in possession" of the resource-rich South China Sea.
"Uulitin ko ang sinabi ni Presidente, ang problema kasi, ang tanong na 'yun na, 'Will you allow [China to fish within the Philippines's EEZ]?' Ano bang allow? Eh nandoon na nga sila. They are there. As far as they are concerned, they own it," the Palace official said in a press conference.
(I will repeat the President's statement. The problem is the question, "Will you allow China to fish within the Philippines' EEZ? What is there to allow? They are there. As far as they are concerned, they own it.)
"The policy is huwag papasok sa EEZ. Ang sinasabi naman ni Presidente, 'Ang problema nga diyan, 'yang policy na iyan eh sila nga ang may hawak ng buong karagatan. Kaya hindi natin pipwedeng ipagpilitan ang sarili natin sa kanila kasi nagri-react din sila. Kaya nga I want to avoid any armed hostilities. Hindi na ako mag-hihintay na magkaroon ng gulo diyan,'" he added.
(The policy is we do not allow them to trawl in the Philippines' EEZ. But the President is also saying, "The problem there is that policy is being ignored because China controls the entire sea. That's why we cannot enforce our policy because they will react. I want to avoid any armed hostilities. I won't wait to sow tension there.")
Duterte has been heavily criticized for his supposed negligence to assert
the country's sovereignty over the Philippine waters, following the June 9 allision of Filipino and Chinese fishing vessels at Recto (Reed) Bank, which is located within the country's 200-nautical-mile EEZ.
Critics have claimed that the President's alleged leniency toward China can be a ground for impeachment, as he refused to enforce Article 12, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, which reserves the EEZ exclusively for the use and enjoyment of Filipinos.
Article 12, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution mandates the Philippine government to "protect the nation's marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens."
Asked if the Duterte administration is abandoning its policy on the contested waters, Panelo said: "No."
Panelo insisted that the President cannot afford to take aggressive action, as it would only lead to war between Manila and Beijing.
"Bakit magiging surrender? Hindi ba sinabi -- paulit-ulit lang tayo -- sinabi na nga sa inyo na iyan ang reality sa baba, all right? They claim sovereignty over the entire area," Duterte's spokesman said.
(It doesn't mean we surrender. We are repeatedly saying that the reality is they claim sovereignty over the entire area.)
"Ang sinasabi naman ng Presidente, 'Kapag ginawa ko iyan eh baka 'yung gusto niyong i-protect ko, mawawala sa ating lahat kasi 'pag ginawa ko iyan at awayin natin ang Tsina, magkakaroon ng hostilities. And under the Constitution, ang aking pangunahing tungkulin is to serve and to protect [the Filipino people],'" he added.
(The President keep on saying: "If I confront and wage a war on China, we will lose everything that you want me to defend because there will be hostilities. Under the Constitution, my primordial duty is to serve and to protect the Filipino people.")
Panelo, nevertheless, said the "verbal" agreement between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping with regard to the activities in the South China Sea would ease tensions between two countries in the busy waterway.
He insisted that the deal between Duterte and Xi is "legally binding," despite formal signing of document.
He also stressed that the agreement has already been enforced, making it easier for Filipinos to fish in the disputed sea.
"Nag-uusap na nga sila kaya nga hindi na kailangan. Nagka-agree na nga sila (They're talking, that's why there's no need to confront China. They have both agreed to ease tensions in the contested waters)," Panelo said.
"Nangyayari na nga ngayon. 'di ba? Kung ano 'yung napag-usapan nila, nangyayari na. Hindi tayo pinapakialaman sa Reed Bank. Pagkatapos, pinapabayaan nag mag-fish 'yung mga fishermen natin sa Scarborough Shoal," he added.
(It has already been enforced. Their verbal agreement has already been enforced. They let us control the Reed Bank. They also let our fishermen to fish in the Scarborough Shoal.) (SunStar Philippines)