Malacañang on Friday denied that President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had an agreement that allowed the Chinese to fish in Philippine waters.

“There is no truth to the speculation of a purported ‘verbal fishing agreement’ between (Duterte) and (Xi), nor that Chinese vessels were encouraged to stay in the West Philippine Sea despite the diplomatic protests and strongly worded statements of Philippine government officials,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

“This is without basis and is quite simply, conjecture,” he added.

Roque made the statement after retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio claimed there was a verbal deal between the Philippines and China agreed upon by the two presidents. 

Roque under Philippine laws, a fishing agreement could only be done through a treaty as provided under Article 2 (1) (a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law on Treaties.

“No such treaty or agreement exists between the Philippines and China,” Roque stressed.

“(Duterte) does not condone unlawful commercial fishing by any state on Philippine waters. However, the President also recognizes that subsistence (non-commercial) fishing may be allowed as a recognition of the traditional fishing rights pointed out by the Arbitral Tribunal itself in its Award on Jurisdiction (para. 407) in the case between the Philippines and China,” he added.

Earlier this week, Duterte, who promised during his presidential campaign that he would travel by jetski to plant a Philippine flag on an island in the West Philippine Sea, said on Monday that nothing would happen if he did so.

He said asserting the Philippines’s rights on the West Philippine Sea would cause bloodshed, which he said the country could not risk entering.

Last week, the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said it had seen at least six Chinese warships and 240 Chinese militia vessels in the territorial waters off Kalayaan Islands in Palawan.

“A minimum estimate that each can catch one (1) ton of fish amounts to a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea. These acts fall under illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” the NTF-WPS said in a statement. John Ezekiel J. Hirro