Who is lying — the President or Roque?
The President’s spokesperson Harry Roque issued a statement last April 23, 2021, that President Duterte never entered into a “verbal fishing agreement” with China’s President Xi. Roque declared: “There is no truth to the speculation of a purported ‘verbal fishing agreement’ between President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and President Xi Jinping xxx. This is without basis and is quite simply conjecture.” Roque called on critics of the President to “stop making malicious speculations and false claims made to pointlessly inflame the situation.”
The undeniable fact is President Duterte himself repeatedly announced to the Filipino people that he had entered into a verbal fishing agreement with President Xi. After a Chinese fishing boat rammed on June 9, 2019, the Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-Ver 1 in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), President Duterte justified the presence of the Chinese fishing vessel inside Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ). President Duterte revealed that he had forged a verbal fishing agreement with President Xi in October 2016. When he addressed the Presidential Security Group on June 26, 2019, President Duterte narrated his verbal agreement with President Xi: “It was a mutual agreement. Sige bigayan tayo. Fish ka doon, fish ako dito.”
President Duterte reiterated this verbal fishing agreement when he appeared in the TV program of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy on July 17, 2019. The President stated: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m the owner, and I’m just giving the fishing rights. Galit sila kung bakit ko daw pinapaisda.” In his July 22, 2019 State of the Nation Address, the President explained his verbal fishing agreement with President Xi: “When Xi says I will fish, who can prevent him?” Besides, the President stated in his Sona, “They (the Chinese) have been there fishing since time immemorial.” President Duterte erroneously thought that traditional fishing applies to the EEZ when it actually applies only to the territorial sea and archipelagic waters, and only when agreed upon by the coastal states or ordered by an international tribunal. Recently, just last April 19, 2021, in a late evening televised address to the nation, President Duterte referred again to the verbal fishing agreement when he said the agreement did not include drilling for oil or gas. The President stated: “Pag mag-umpisa na silang mag-drill ng oil diyan, sabihin ko talaga sa China, is that part of our agreement? Because if that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill my oil there.”
The President’s chief presidential legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, affirmed the existence of the verbal fishing agreement when he opined that it is “legally binding.” On July 1, 2019, Panelo declared: “Even in the law, even if it’s verbal, it’s valid and binding as long as there is mutual consent from the two parties. That’s why it’s an agreement.” The President’s allies in the Senate also affirmed the existence of the verbal fishing agreement and defended its legality. Sen. Francis Tolentino delivered a privilege speech on July 24, 2019, declaring: “President Duterte can validly enter into legally binding international verbal agreements with other states for and on behalf of the Philippines. xxx Thus, oral obligations are binding, as long as it is clear from the language employed that there is an intention to be bound.”
President Duterte’s men, however, are not unanimous on whether the verbal fishing agreement is legally binding even as they do not dispute the fact that the President did enter into a verbal fishing agreement with President Xi. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles opined, “Unless it is translated formally into writing, then it is just an agreement to become good neighbors.” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. declared: “The verbal agreement cannot be enforced on us, it’s verbal. You need a document to prove an agreement. That’s the way it is.”
It cannot be denied that President Duterte did in fact enter into a verbal fishing agreement with President Xi allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine EEZ in the WPS. President Duterte himself affirmed it repeatedly. Presidential spokesperson Roque, however, vigorously denies that his principal, President Duterte, entered into such verbal fishing agreement with President Xi. Now, who is telling the truth, and who is telling a lie, to the Filipino people — President Duterte or his spokesperson Roque?
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