Nothing new in Duterte's SONA 'lecture' on West Philippine Sea

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said he would "educate" his critics on the West Philippine Sea on his fourth State of the Nation Address but he merely repeated his previous statements on the matter.

The president had been criticized for his past remarks on allowing China to continue fishing in Philippine waters and for not invoking the country's arbitral victory three years ago.

Xi's threat of trouble

In his fourth SONA, Duterte recalled a previous visit to Beijing where Chinese President Xi Jinping warned him that there would be "trouble" if the Philippines would dig oil in the West Philippine Sea.

The president, once again, said he is not ready to go to war with China.

"Ang sabi ni President Xi, 'Well, you know there is a conflict there. Do you think rather than go there and have a confrontation, not necessarily the grey ships, warships, but you know a squabble there could lead to something else," Duterte said, justifying his move to become "friends" with China.

Duterte stressed that both the Philippines and China are claiming the West Philippine Sea but Beijing has control over the area.

"So what did I answer, 'Well then maybe, sir, we can talk about this some other time but definitely before I go we must talk about the West Philippine Sea. We cannot have our cake and eat it too," Duterte said.

Recto Bank collision a 'mere' incident

The president has once again downplayed the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte had called this incident a "little maritime accident," a similar statement to the Chinese government itself. A leaked Philippine Coast Guard report, however, identified the incident as a "very serious marine casualty."

READ: Palace: No contradiction in Duterte's remarks, Coast Guard report

The Philippines and China are conducting investigations into the allision.

"They wanted to talk tapos ayaw dito and so sige we will investigate and you investigate and when we are ready we shall meet and compare notes and let us determine who pays for what damage ganun lang," Duterte said in his SONA.

Invoking traditional fishing rights

The president insisted that he was only invoking traditional fishing rights when he allowed the Chinese to fish in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Critics have warned that this could be a basis for impeachment as it violates the president's constitutional mandate to protect the country's marine wealth in its EEZ. 

RELATED: Fish in our time: Duterte and Xi's 'undocumented' deal on sea row

Citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Duterte insisted that the Philippines can enter into fishing agreements with other countries.

"Our ownership of the West Philippine Sea is internationally recognized. However, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the arbitral award in the case of (Philippines versus China) recognized instances where another state may utilize the resources found within the coastal states exclusive economic zone the arbitral ruling even state," he said.

Duterte earlier admitted that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a fishing deal in the West Philippine Sea. It was an undocumented verbal agreement.

The deal was that Chinese fishermen will be allowed to fish in Recto Bank while Filipino fishermen will be allowed access to Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, which China's coast guard had been blocking.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said this supposed fishing deal was not policy as there was no document to prove it.









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