PHL not waiving EEZ rights in South China Sea to Beijing

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The Philippines is not waiving its rights to exclusive waters in the South China Sea, President Duterte said on Thursday, walking back on an earlier stance allowing Chinese fishing that some officials said was unconstitutional.

“The President will not relinquish our sovereign rights over our country’s exclusive economic zone,” President Duterte’s Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a news statement early on Thursday, adding the President’s decisions are in accordance with the Constitution.

Duterte also spoke to other Southeast Asian leaders at the weekend Asean summit about “the dangers of China’s vague demarcation line claim” and the need for Beijing to adopt a code of conduct in the disputed sea, Panelo said.

The Philippine leader, in a speech on Wednesday night, said he can’t stop China from fishing in his country’s exclusive waters even if he wants to, claiming that this will only result in a confrontation.

“If I want to prohibit Chinese fishing, how do I enforce my desire? Even America won’t do so out of fear of confrontation there,” Duterte said.

‘Nothing wrong’
Malacañang added it is “constitutional” for the President to enter into a “mutual agreement” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which Duterte said allowed Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In a Palace briefing, Panelo said “there is nothing wrong” with Duterte and Xi’s agreement.

When asked if such an agreement is constitutional, Panelo said: “Definitely. What is unconstitutional there with what they agreed upon which is not to have chaos in one place? Because you must remember, this is a disputed territory. It would have been better if it is not. If not, we don’t have a problem.”

Duterte revealed the mutual agreement on Wednesday night although he did not specifically say when was this agreed upon.

“That was what we talked about. That is why we are talking. And that was we were allowed to fish. It was a mutual agreement. Let us give and take. You fish there, I fish here,” Panelo said.

But Malacañang did categorically say whether the government has allowed China to fish in the country’s EEZ.

“They said they will not interfere. Right? They’ll never do that. That is what the President said—they’ll never do that, why? Because we are friends,” Panelo stressed.

He added this is also the reason the President believes that there’s no need for the Philippine government to prevent China from fishing in Recto Bank following Filipino fishermen’s request for the President to make the area their exclusive fishing grounds and help them secure the area.

Let Palace act
For his part, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III suggested that Malacañang act on the matter first before lawmakers delve into the issue.

“Let’s allow the Executive Department, to handle the situation,” the Senate leader said, adding: “If legislation is necessary, then we involve Congress.”

Faulty pronouncement
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), meantime, warned the government against the possibility of massive Chinese poaching in the country’s territory.

Pamalakaya National Chairman Fernando Hicap said Chinese poachers are sure to wreak havoc in the country’s marine territory because of Duterte’s policy pronouncement.

Hicap chided the President for allowing Chinese fishermen to catch fish within the country’s EEZ on the basis of “friendship.”

“It is Vietnam who saved our fishermen in Recto Bank; they are more acceptable to be called as true friends of the Philippines than China, who is consistent in trampling our sovereign rights and does not pay any respect to our fisherfolk in our very own territory,” Hicap said.

PHL not waiving EEZ rights in South China Sea to Beijing

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