MANILA President Rodrigo Duterte is asking the Chinese government to guarantee the safety of the Filipinos who fish within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said this as matters relating to the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) incident were brought up during Monday's Cabinet meeting in MalacaAan Palace.
The President wanted China's assurance that the rights and safety of our fisherfolks are guaranteed, Panelo said in a statement on Tuesday.
Duterte's appeal to China comes after criticism that he has turned his back on the 22 fishermen whose boat sank after it was allegedly rammed by a Chinese vessel off Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea last June 9.
Panelo, meanwhile, defended Duterte anew from critics who questioned the Filipino leader's verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that allows the Chinese to fish within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile EEZ for as long as China will allow the Filipinos to fish in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal during their first bilateral meeting in Beijing in October 2016.
He explained the deal is to ensure that despite their respective claims over the disputed waters, there would not be any armed conflict between the two countries.
If you recall, our fishermen were not safe during when they were fishing at that time two years ago. That's why he (Duterte) made sure that we got the assurance that they will not be touched. They (Chinese) have not touched them, Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
The fact alone that they agreed that fishermen from our country can fish in that disputed area is already an assurance that they will not be touched. What the President wants is continuing assurance from them (China), he added.
He said Duterte's appeal may be resolved through the next Bilateral Consultative Mechanism between the Philippines and China.
Panelo earlier said the Duterte administration will not abandon the 22 fishermen and will even be deploying additional Coast Guards in the Recto Bank to ensure their safety.
He noted that government has already filed a diplomatic protest and may also file charges against the Chinese crew if proven that the alleged ramming and abandonment was intentionally done.
The Presidential Spokesperson, meanwhile, reiterated that the Duterte administration will continue to maintain the country's claims with respect to its territory and EEZs while also maintaining friendly relations with China. (PNA)
Source: Philippines News Agency