The oral agreement between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping was duly recorded by an officer and publicly disclosed, according to Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
"It is not as if they or the critics were the ones who discovered said agreement and revealed it to the Filipino people," Panelo said in a statement, in reply to the statement issued by former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
"The oral agreement was recorded by an appropriate officer during the bilateral meeting. The President was explicit about it," he added.
Panelo also said House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, as then Foreign Affairs Secretary, made pronouncements, "saying that the Philippines and China “co-control” the disputed waters and that the fishermen should be free to fish therein. This representation touched on this subject in his press briefings. This Administration has been transparent as it can be."
Panelo underscored that "At the risk of being redundant, we reiterate: The agreement was made to maintain peace and order in the disputed waters while negotiations are ongoing."
He added that President Duterte has the authority to enter into executive agreements, whether written or oral.
Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales said in a joint statement that the 2016 arbitral ruling that upheld the Philippines' claims in the West Philippine Sea provided for traditional fishing rights for several countries in the Panatag Shoal, or Scarborough Shoal, but only Filipinos may fish in its exclusive economic zone.
It can be recalled that Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales have accused Chinese President Xi Jinping , Foreign Minister Wang Yi and China's envoy to Manila Zhao Jianhua of committing crimes against humanity in connection with Beijing's activities to gain control over most of the resource-rich South China Sea.
On the President's pronouncement that he has granted fishing rights to China, Panelo said this is attune with the provisions of the Constitution and adheres to the government policy.
"As we previously stated, Article 12, Section 2 of the Constitution must be read not in isolation but in relation with Article 2, Sections 2 and 4 of the same instrument. The provision reserving the use and enjoyment of the nation’s marine wealth to Filipino citizens, must be read in relation to the prime duty of the President to serve and to protect the Filipino people, as well as to our country’s adherence to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations."
Panelo underscored that the President clarified in his State of the Nation Address that "we are concerned, we, as the “owner” of the West Philippine Sea, are only granting fishing rights to China."
The Duterte-Xi oral agreement was not done under duress or fear, Panelo said.
"The agreement was entered into not because of any threat or vitiation of consent, but because the President sees such arrangement as pragmatic which can keep at bay any conflict between two countries, while we gain a venue where we can assert our sovereign rights," he added. — BAP, GMA News