Nograles: Despite 'verbal deal' with China, PH must still enforce laws

PALACE SIDE. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles takes questions from the media. Photo from Karlo Nograles Facebook page

PALACE SIDE. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles takes questions from the media.

Photo from Karlo Nograles Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – Despite a supposed deal between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government is still bound to enforce the Fisheries Code and its constitutional mandate to keep resources in Philippine waters exclusive to Filipinos.

"As far as we’re concerned, we’ll have to enforce our laws. Whatever is written in the Fisheries Code, specifically that it is our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and whatever is written in the laws, according to how to enforce it, then we will enforce it," Nograles said in Malacañang on Wednesday, July 3.

Duterte has claimed that a 2016 agreement he made with Xi forced him to allow Chinese to fish in Philippine waters, in violation of the 1987 Constitution which states marine resources there must be reserved for Filipinos.

Nograles' statement also clashed with Duterte's statement that the constitutional mandate to protect the EEZ was only "for the thoughtless and the senseless."

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo later backed this up, saying Duterte can't enforce the EEZ clause because it would harm his supposedly higher duty to protect Filipino lives.

"Right now it's status quo. When you say status quo, the Philippines will enforce our laws," Nograles said on Wednesday.

Not enforceable

Nograles echoed Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr in saying this supposed deal was not yet enforceable  since it lacked the required terms and conditions.

If it was indeed made in "verbal" form, it was only an "agreement to come to an agreement," said Nograles.

"If there were verbal talks between state heads, those verbal talks, unless it is formalized, written down and stated therein provision and provision, the terms and reference, the terms and conditions, then this is an agreement to come into an agreement," he said.

What was "binding" about the deal, he said, was that it binds the Philippines and China to start talking and define "the specifics of the agreement."

He agreed that any agreement that allows another country to fish in Philippine waters must go through processes, including through the Senate, if the deal comes in the form of a treaty.

Confusion

Many have interpreted Duterte's remarks about a deal he struck with Xi in 2016 as a deal in which the Philippine government allows Chinese to fish in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

However, Duterte's remarks were vague.

The deal, as he described it, was one in which Xi agreed to let Filipino fishermen fish in the area outside the lagoon of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a circle of reefs and rocks known to be rich fishing grounds.

This deal had been discussed by officials in public before. That Filipino fishermen were allowed to fish in the area soon after Duterte's 2016 state visit to China was an achievement bannered by Malacañang.

Duterte said the deal allowed both Chinese and Filipino fishermen to fish in Panatag Shoal. The 2016 Hague ruling did declare the shoal common fishing grounds for the two peoples, even if it lies within the Philippines' EEZ.

That particular deal did not involve Recto Bank, which the Hague ruling categorically stated belongs to the Philippines' EEZ and not China's.

It remained unclear – and the Palace had yet to clarify  this – if Duterte meant to say this 2016 deal tied his own hands in enforcing Philippine laws against Chinese fishermen in places like Recto Bank, and in what way it did that.

Diplomatic sources Rappler spoke with said there was no Xi-Duterte deal that categorically allowed Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine waters. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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