In this Nov. 20, 2018 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte presents a token to Chinese President Xi Jinping following the successful expanded bilateral meeting at the Malacañan Palace.
Presidential photo/Richard Madelo
Palace insists on Duterte's stand on 'legally binding' fishing deal
Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - July 4, 2019 - 3:56pm

MANILA, Philippines — Opposing the previous remarks of two Cabinet secretaries, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo insisted that the verbal agreement between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping is enforceable.

Duterte had disclosed that he and Xi agreed on a fishing deal in the West Philippine Sea within the country's exclusive economic zone.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles have contradicted Malacañang's position that the undocumented agreement was legally binding.

Panelo, meanwhile, claimed that the supposed fishing deal was already being enforced as Filipino fishermen are no longer being blocked by the Chinese in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal.

"That is the position of the president, not my position. I am just echoing as spokesman of the president. If you cannot agree with that, we cannot do anything about that," Panelo said in a press briefing Thursday.

Panelo added that Locsin and Nograles were not yet in the Cabinet when Duterte made the agreement with Xi in 2016.

Locsin took over the Department of Foreign Affairs in October 2018 while Nograles was appointed as Cabinet secretary in November last year.

In a television interview earlier this week, Locsin said he was not briefed about the fishing deal when he took office at the DFA.

"Which goes to show that this was not written down. Otherwise, I would be briefed upon taking the position," Locsin told ANC's "Headstart."

For Locsin, the verbal agreement between Duterte and Xi is "pointless" as a document is needed to prove its existence. The top diplomat said this cannot be enforced at it was not considered a policy.

Nograles, on the other hand, said the deal was just an "agreement to come into an agreement."

"Unless it is translated formally into writing, then it is just an agreement to become good neighbors," Nograles told reporters.

Under Section 21, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, "No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate."

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, pointed out that the only accepted exception to this constitutional provision is an executive agreement "which is allowed without Senate concurrence because it merely implements existing treaty obligations, laws or policy."

CHINA KARLO NOGRALES PHILIPPINES-CHINA TIES RODRIGO DUTERTE SOUTH CHINA SEA TEODORO LOCSIN JR. WEST PHILIPPINE SEA XI JINPING
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