No PH-China ‘verbal fishing deal’ in West Philippine Sea — Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   April 23, 2021   •   322

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Friday denied allegations that President Rodrigo Duterte made a “verbal fishing agreement” with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque dismissed the claims as “conjecture” and “without basis.”

“There is no truth to the speculation of a purported “verbal fishing agreement” between President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and President Xi Jin Ping, nor Chinese vessels were encouraged to stay in the West Philippine Sea despite the diplomatic protests and strongly-worded statements of Philippine government officials,” he said.

Roque said that a fishing agreement under the Philippine domestic laws can only be done through a treaty.

“Per Article 2 (1) (a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law on Treaties, a treaty is an international agreement concluded between States in written form,” he said.

“Clearly, a treaty must be in writing. No such treaty or agreement exists between the Philippines and China,” he added.

The Palace official, however, clarified that non-commercial fishing activities may be allowed in local waters as part of traditional fishing rights.

“The President does not condone unlawful commercial fishing by any state on Philippine waters,” Roque said.

“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.

Roque called on critics to “stop making malicious speculations and false claims made to pointlessly inflame the situation.”

“We ask everyone to just focus our time and effort on productive activities that will enable us to help one another at this time of the pandemic,” he said.

287 Chinese vessels spotted in Kalayaan waters, NTF-WPS says

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A number of Chinese vessels were seen scattered in various features of the Municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan according to the latest maritime patrol, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said Wednesday.

Citing a report from the Area Task Force-West on the results of its maritime patrol on May 9, the NTF-WPS said that a total of 287 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels were sighted in Kalayaan waters, both within and outside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Bigger groupings of CMMs were sighted at the artificial islands of China while some were observed near islands occupied by the Philippines,” the task force said in a statement.

The recent sighting of Chinese vessels in the area is despite demands from Philippine government officials for China to withdraw its ships in the country’s territorial waters.

The NTF-WPS said that based on the maritime patrol, 2 CMMs and two Houbei Class Missile warships were seen inside Panganiban (Mischief) Reef; one CMM was at Lawak (Nanshan) Island; 11 CMMs were located approximately 29NM southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank; and one CMM vessel was at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

One Chinese Coast Guard was also seen at the shoal during an earlier patrol on May 7, the task force said.

“As for the features forming part of the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks, the 9 May 2021 maritime patrol reported the presence of 34 CMMs at Juan Felipe (Whitsun) Reef (JFR), two Vietnamese (VN) logistics/supply ships and one VN Coast Guard vessel at Sin Cowe East (Grierson) Reef and 77 CMMs in Chigua Reef,” the NTF-WPS said.

The Julian Felipe Reef is a low tide elevation located 175 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan and within 200 nautical miles (NM) of the Philippines’ EEZ.

“It is part of Philippine territory inasmuch as it is located within the overlapping 12NM territorial seas of McKennan (Chigua) Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also our territories under the Municipality of Kalayaan,” the task force said.

The NTF-WPS also said that the 14 CMM vessels and one CCG vessel were spotted off the main Pagasa Island, and 16 CMMs at Zamora (Subi) Reef during the May 9 maritime patrol.

“For the period 3-10 May, the Area Task Force-North reported an average of four CCG vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), and an average of one CCG each for both the Pag-asa Islands and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal,” it added.

Despite China’s illegal unilateral “fishing ban” covering its fishing vessels in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in the South China Sea, from May 1 to August 16, 2021, the task force said two CMMs were observed harvesting shells inside the lagoon of the Bajo de Masinloc.

It also noted a daily average of 10 Filipino fishing boats seen fishing inside the Bajo de Masinloc lagoon for the period of May 7 to 9.

Amid the presence of Chinese vessels in the contested waters, the NTF-WPS said that the Philippine government “continues to strengthen its presence in the WPS with a view towards law enforcement, deterrence of illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing and protection of the welfare and safety of our fisherfolk.”

The task force also urged Filipino fishermen to sail and fish in the West Philippine Sea.

“The National Task Force remains guided by the national policy and interest in asserting our territorial and sovereign rights as upheld by the 2016 arbitral ruling. The articulation of President Rodrigo Duterte at the 75th UN General Assembly emphasizing that the ruling is now part of international law and beyond compromise remains the supreme expression of foreign policy by this government,” it said.

“We reiterated that the Philippines shall continue to defend its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea, and shall not yield an inch of our territory,” it added.

Philippine GDP declines by 4.2% in first quarter of 2021 – PSA

Robie de Guzman   •   May 11, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine economy shrank by more than expected in the first quarter of the year, according to government data released on Tuesday, as prolonged community quarantines due to the pandemic hamper reopening efforts.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell -4.2 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier.

This is the fifth consecutive quarter that the country has posted negative GDP growth due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The PSA said the main contributors to the decline were Construction (-24.2 percent), other Services, (-38.0 percent); and Real Estate and Ownership of Dwellings (-13.2 percent).

Among the major economic sectors, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing (AFF) declined by -1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2021. Likewise, Services and Industry contracted by -4.4 percent and -4.7 percent, respectively during the period, the PSA noted.

“On the demand side, Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) declined by -4.8 percent, along with the following items: Gross Capital Formation (GCF), -18.3 percent; Exports, -9.0 percent; and Imports, -8.3 percent,” the agency said.

The net primary income (NPI) from the rest of the world continued to decline by -75.8 percent, bringing the Gross National Income (GNI) to drop by -10.9 percent during the period, it added.

On the other hand, the PSA said that government final consumption expenditure (GFCE) grew by 16.1 percent in the first quarter of 2021.

Contributors to growth were led by financial and insurance activities (5.2 percent), public administration and defense, compulsory social activities (7.5 percent), and human health and social work activities (11.7 percent).

Other industries that managed to grow during the period were information and communication, 6.3 percent; manufacturing, 0.5 percent; and electricity, steam, water, and waste management, 1.9 percent, the PSA said.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) said the aversion to risk for most of 2020 has placed the country in a long period of quarantine, and that this came at a huge cost to the economy and the people.

It, however, observed some improvements as the rate of contraction has slowed, and that the country has time to catch up with on its growth target of 6.5 to 7.5 percent despite the pandemic-induced quarantine restrictions.

Evaluation of EUA application for Sinopharm vax may be completed in less than 21 days – FDA

Robie de Guzman   •   May 11, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The evaluation process for the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine will not take long before it can be granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) in the Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Tuesday.

FDA director-general Eric Domingo said the Sinopharm vaccine has already been included in the emergency use listing (EUL) of the World Health Organization (WHO) and access to its documents, including inspection reports from the WHO will be faster.

“Useful yung kanyang Emergency Use Listing sa WHO kasi before this, wala pa siyang EUA from a stringent regulatory authority katulad ng mga USFDA ganyan or Europe, Japan… hindi pa siya listed sa mga iyon. Pero yung WHO na emergency use listing that’s equivalent to a stringent regulatory authority,” he said.

“Ang maganda sa WHO kasi very transparent ang documents nyan. Available din siya sa FDA. Lahat ng ni-review nila, maaari naming ma-access kaya hindi tayo masyado mahihirapan sa paghingi ng information,” he added.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier said it has started the process of applying for EUA, pending documents about the vaccine product.

The FDA said the process may take less than 21 days once the DOH completes the application process.

“Kapag ganyan na merong WHO EUL, mas mapapabilis iyan. Nakakaya natin iyan usually less than 21 days,” Domingo said.

The FDA also echoed the DOH’s earlier statement that there are no irregularities with the government’s move to file an EUA for a Chinese-made vaccine since they also applied for the EUA of other COVID-19 vaccine brands, such as Sinovac, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer, in order for these vaccines to be delivered to the country.

“Talagang nasa batas and it’s a worldwide practice,” he said. “Based on WHO guidelines, posible naman na gobyerno gusto bumili ng bakuna na walang local manufacturer or representative dito. In those cases, the government itself can get EUA.”

“Hindi naman conflict yun dahil ang EUA ay hindi naman product registration o marketing authorization lang, talagang for emergency use lang ang mga bakuna,” he added. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

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