By Genalyn Kabiling
The country remains the owner of the West Philippine Sea but China has been merely given the “traditional fishing rights” in the area, President Duterte said Monday.
“Sabi nila, ‘Bakit mo pinayagan ang China?’ Sabi ko, ‘As far as I’m concerned, I’m the owner, and I’m just giving the fishing rights,’” the President said during a television interview Wednesday.
The President explained that traditional fishing rights have been widely recognized, citing both Filipino and Chinese ancestors have been fishing in the area “for centuries for their food.”
“Historically even before the birth of nations, even before the organization of whatever, meron ‘yang mga tao sa coast eh whether they are really the ancestors of the Chinese or the Filipinos. And also, nations who have been fishing there. It’s called fishing rights,” he said.
In many cases tried in Europe, he claimed that traditional fishing rights have been allowed by the court.
“The court admitted that there is such a thing as the traditional fishing rights of people and that you have to allow it without violating the law,” he said.
The President made the remarks after drawing flak from some groups for allowing China to fish in the country’s territorial waters.
Duterte earlier claimed that the country cannot drive out China from the disputed waters because it insisted it was theirs. He also cited that he had a mutual agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing China to fish in the country’s waters after Beijing agreed not to block the access of Filipino fishermen to Panatag Shoal.
An arbitration court earlier ruled in favor of the Philippines after it nullified China’s nine-dash claim over the West Philippine Sea. It also decided that Filipino and Chinese fishermen have traditional fishing rights in the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the Scarborough Shoal, declaring it a common fishing ground.
In his remarks Wednesday, the President acknowledged that the West Philippines Sea is “ours” but China has claimed possession over the area.
“It’s not really a matter who owns the property. So we’re claiming it as ours. And as a matter of fact, we filed an arbitral — we filed a case for arbitration actually, and we won,” he said.
“But the problem is the property is not enough possession. It is with China who claims it also to be his property, their property,” he said.