By Prince Golez
Malacañang denied on Friday that there was a “verbal fishing agreement” between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, allowing Chinese nationals to fish within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also rejected speculation that Chinese vessels were allowed to stay in the disputed West Philippine Sea despite the repeated demands for them to leave.
“There is no truth to the speculation of a purported “verbal fishing agreement” between President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and President Xi Jin Ping, nor that Chinese vessels were encouraged to stay in the West Philippine Sea despite the diplomatic protests and strongly worded statements of Philippine government officials,” Roque said in a statement.
“This is without basis and is quite simply, conjecture,” he added.
In a 2019 interview with ANC, former Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Chief Executive’s verbal deal with Xi was “valid and binding” as there was mutual consent from the two parties.
Panelo was reacting to the pronouncement of Duterte that he had an agreement with Xi to allow Chinese to fish within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile EEZ if Filipinos would be allowed to fish in the Scarborough Shoal.
Roque explained that under the country’s domestic laws, a fishing agreement can only be done through a treaty.
“Per Article 2 (1) (a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law on Treaties, a treaty is an international agreement concluded between States in written form. Clearly, a treaty must be in writing. No such treaty or agreement exists between the Philippines and China,” according to him.
He likewise stressed that Duterte does not condone unlawful commercial fishing by any state on Philippine waters.
The secretary, however, pointed out that the President recognizes that subsistence (non-commercial) fishing may be allowed as a recognition of the traditional fishing rights pointed out by the Arbitral Tribunal itself in its Award on Jurisdiction (para. 407) in the case between the Philippines and China.
“Let us therefore stop making malicious speculations and false claims made to pointlessly inflame the situation. We ask everyone to just focus our time and effort on productive activities that will enable us to help one another at this time of pandemic,” concluded Roque.