The Palace on Thursday hit back at a fisherman who criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for admitting that his 2016 “jet ski” promise was a joke, saying the administration’s policy on the West Philippine Sea enabled locals to fish in Panatag Shoal.
Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque claimed that the chief executive’s handling of the maritime dispute allowed Filipino fishermen to earn their living at China-occupied Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough.
“Carlo, first of all, are you able to work now? Isn’t it true that under the Aquino administration, which had an aggressive stance against China, you weren’t able to fish in Scarborough Shoal?” Roque said in a televised briefing.
“Let us not forget that if the policy on China did not change, you still won’t be able to fish,” he added.
The official was reacting to Carlo Montehermozo, a 37-year-old fisherman from Infanta, Pangasinan, who called Duterte a “joke of a President” after the Philippine leader’s admission that his promise to ride a jet ski to challenge China was a “pure joke” and that those who regard it as true were “stupid.” He said he felt deceived by the President’s pledge.
It was Montehermozo who asked Duterte during a 2016 presidential debate held at the University of Pangasinan what he intended to do about the Chinese incursions into Philippine waters should he win.
In an effort to defend the President, Roque said Duterte’s election promise to ride a jet ski to the disputed waters meant he will assert Philippine sovereignty.
Roque then claimed that Duterte’s policy appeared to be “working” although it is “not perfect.”
“When I say it’s working, I’m not saying it’s perfect… Having a working policy does not mean it’s perfect. It’s not a perfect world,” he said.
“Let us remove from our minds that protecting sovereignty only means being at war with China. There are various ways to protect our sovereignty,” Roque added.
Chinese vessels have repeatedly driven away Filipino boats in the West Philippine Sea, based on reports of local fishermen.
The Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries, meanwhile, have been conducting maritime patrols to drive away foreign trawlers within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing have recently escalated over the “illegal” presence of at least 200 Chinese ships in the resource-rich waterway, prompting the former to lodge diplomatic protests against the latter.
China and the Philippines have long been embroiled in a decades-long dispute in the South China Sea, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and self-governing Taiwan.
Duterte has tip-toed on the maritime dispute and has cultivated cordial ties with China since assuming the presidency in 2016, as he sought Beijing’s funding and support on his big-ticket infrastructure programs.
He recently said the Philippines owes China a “huge debt of gratitude” over its Covid-19 vaccine donation.