MANILA, Philippines — The verbal agreement of President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing China to fish within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was just an “agreement to agree” and not a “national policy.”
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said this Wednesday, countering the earlier statements of Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, who claimed that the verbal deal between the two leaders is “legally binding.”
“If there were verbal talks between state heads, those verbal talks unless it is formalized, written down and stated therein provision by provision, the terms and reference, the terms and conditions, then this is an agreement to come to an agreement,” Nograles told reporters in an interview in Malacañang.
The former Davao City representative explained that without “specific provisions,” the deal will be just an agreement to continue the coordination of the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea dispute.
“It’s an agreement to talk, to enter into bilateral talks, to enter into communication, to clarify things to continue bilateral meetings, cooperation, and coordination, unless it is translated formally into writing, it’s an agreement to become good neighbors,” he added.
The fishing agreement was supposedly agreed upon by the two leaders during Duterte’s state visit to Beijing in 2016 but was only publicized last week following the ramming and sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel at Recto Bank.
Last June 9, 22 Filipino fishermen were left adrift in the open sea for hours after their boat was hit by a Chinese vessel while anchored in the waters off Recto Bank. A Vietnamese ship later rescued them.
READ: Chinese vessel abandons PH boat after collision
Recto Bank is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile EEZ, which guarantees the country’s exclusive rights to the natural resources in the area.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also said the verbal agreement cannot be enforced.
“The verbal agreement cannot be enforced because it’s verbal, exactly as (Senator) Frank(lin) Drilon said that you need a document to prove an agreement. It’s just the way it is,” Locsin said. (Editor: Eden Estopace)
READ: Locsin: Verbal fishing agreement with China can’t be enforced