By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine government is inclined to “tolerate” the fishing of Chinese vessels in the country’s territorial waters and does not consider such gesture as treason.
President Duterte has invoked the country’s friendly relations with China in allowing the Asian neighbor to fish in the country’s exclusive economic zone, including the West Philippine Sea, according to Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo.
“I don’t think China would do that. Why? Because we’re friends,” Duterte said in an interview with reporters at a film premiere at SM Megamall in Ortigas business district last Monday night, when asked if the country will prevent China from fishing in local territorial waters.
“And they are of the same view that that should not result in any bloody confrontation,” he added.
The President’s statement comes after issuing an apology to the 22 Filipino fishermen who were abandoned by a Chinese boat after hitting their boat off Recto Bank on June 9.
Duterte explained that he did not mean to belittle the fishermen when he claimed the Recto Bank incident was a “little maritime accident” since there was no bloody confrontation.
“It’s a maritime incident ‘yan, eh. Little in the sense that it did not result in any confrontation. This was not to belittle anything. There was damage but luckily nobody died,” said Duterte, who has ruled out going to war with China over the incident.
“But maliit itong bagay na ito [It’s a little incident] for anybody to bring in the war – the grey ships – the grey ships are the war ships,” he added.
In a Palace press briefing Tuesday, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo explained the President’s decision to allow Chinese fishermen in the country’s waters was out of friendship between the two nations.
“He said they will not allow it because as far as they are concerned they have historical right to that area,” he said about China’s resolve not to be banned from fishing in the South China Sea.
“Number two, we will allow it kasi we’re friends naman. Eh ‘di magbigayan muna tayo parang ganun ang punto ni Presidente [We will allow it because we’re friends. We will meet halfway. That’s the point of the President],” he said.
Panelo maintained that the President’s decision granting China access to the country’s marine resources was not treasonous. He noted that the country is permitted to grant such fishing rights to a group under the international law of the sea.
“How can it be treason when it is allowed?” he said in Filipino.
Asked if the county was now granting rights to China to fish in the territorial waters, Panelo said: “Siguro parang to-tolerate mo lang, not necessarily grant. Friends nga daw. Kung friends, eh di magbigayan kayo [Maybe tolerate, not necessarily grant. We are friends. If we’re friends, there will be give and take on both sides],” he said.
Panelo, however, said the President’s stance questioning China’s sweeping claim in the South China Sea remains.
“What’s your basis for claiming the entire South China Sea because the name is South China Sea. OF course we don’t believe in that,” he said.
Just last week, Malacañang said Chinese fishermen are not allowed in Recto Bank, located within the country’s exclusive economic zone. Panelo said the government would wait for the “facts” about the maritime incident, including why the Chinese vessel was in the country’s territorial waters in the first place.