Malacañang on Thursday, July 4, reiterated its earlier pronouncement on the verbal fishing agreement with China following the remarks of Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin.

“Ang sinasabi ko kung ano ang sinabi ni Presidente. Kung iba ang interpretasyon ng mga kasama natin, they are entitled to their own interpretation,” said Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo to Palace reporters in a press briefing.

“Gaya nga ng sinabi ko, iyon ang interpretasyon niya. Alam mo, he is a lawyer [Nograles], and as i’ve repeatedly said, there are as many opinions as there are lawyers. Kung iyon ang basa niya, iyon ang basa niya,” Secretary Panelo added.

The Palace official said that the position of the President on the issue has not changed, and that the verbal agreement is actually being enforced now, which is to observe peace in the area so that the Filipinos there can fish.

“But the position of the President remains the same. It has not changed. Kung ano ang ikinwento niya, ay exactly ang nangyari. Narinig ng lahat ng Cabinet members iyon, at nangyayari iyon ngayon,” Sec. Panelo said.

“That is the position of the President, not my position. I am just echoing the position as a spokesman of the President,” Panelo added.

Quoting the Chief Executive, Secretary Panelo said that the line of questioning on whether the government will allow China to fish in the disputed area is crafted on a wrong premise since the Chinese had already been there and had been claiming the same as their own.

“Ang problema kasi ang tanong na iyon, ‘Will you allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the EEZ?’ Ano bang ‘allow’ eh andoon na nga sila, they are there. As far as they are concerned, they own it,” Sec. Panelo said.

“Kaya nga kami nag-uusap na lang na pwede bang huwag istorbohin iyong mga [Pilipinong] mangingisda doon,” he added, suggesting that aggressively forcing the application of the provision in Article 12 of the Constitution would only result in a worse situation for the Filipino fishermen.

The Palace nonetheless remains positive that President Duterte’s popularity will not be eroded with the issue.

“Alam niyo, sinasabi nga ni Presidente, it doesn’t matter kung popular siya or hindi. What he will do is he will perform his duty under the Constitution as directed to him. His prime duty being the head of the government is to serve and protect the people,” Panelo concluded.

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