MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte downplayed the taking of Filipino fishermen's catch by the China Coast Guard, saying it was a "barter" exchange and thus does not count as seizure.
"It was a barter in exchange for fish. The problem is the valuation...We could not understand each other here. It was not an outright seizure," he said on Monday, June 18 to a room full of Filipino diplomats.
He was giving a speech at the anniversary of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs.
In using the word "barter," he was echoing statements by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. Zhao's use of the term "barter" has enraged some quarters because of the unevenness of the exchange between Filipino fishermen and China Coast Guard.
The cigarettes, packs of noodles, and water from the Chinese are not the same in value as the thousands of pesos worth of catch taken from the fishermen.
Fisherman Roseller Latagen said the Chinese Coast Guard would take as much as P3,000 worth of their catch and pay them two small bottles of mineral water.
Floro Delegencia from Masinloc town in Zambales said they're also sometimes paid with bottles or beer or cigarettes. (READ: Carpio to Duterte gov't: File new case vs China)
The Zambales fishermen who had experienced the incident also said in a Malacañang briefing that they don't always get goods from the Chinese when they take their catch.
Masinloc mayor Arsenia Lim even likened the fish-taking by the Chinese to a "toll fee" imposed on Filipinos for their use of Philippine traditional fishing grounds.
In his Monday speech, Duterte also downplayed the landing of Chinese bombers in Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, which had been condemned by Vietnam.
"The airplane in Woody Island is really somewhere. It's too far away, it's not even part of the islands being claimed by the Philippines. It is not part of our territorial or economic zones," he said.
Critics had, however, still called on the administration to protest the bombers as their position in the Paracels puts Manila and key military bases within their range.
Not a pushover
Duterte then reminded DFA personnel that he is being careful around China because of their military and economic might.
"Hindi ko naman mabira-bira (I can't attack verbally). China is no pushover. You cannot scare him," he said.
He said he refrained from pursuing the issue of the Philippines' claim over the West Philippine Sea because China assured him it could provide arms for the Philippine military for free.
"With China, we have an agreement that, if needed, I can import arms, the guided missiles. We can fight better," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Philippine President said he needs China's help now more than ever because of the threat posed by Muslim extremists.
"We’re a bit depleted in terms of bullets. We have to refurbish. In a long sustained war in terrorism we would need the help," he said.
Duterte confirmed that he is aware of diplomatic protests filed by his administration against China but that the government has chosen not to publicize them. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.