Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping review a guard of honor as they attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 20, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
A Catholic bishop has voiced suspicions over what might be a "deal" between the Philippines and China following a decision by Beijing to allow Filipino fishermen into a disputed area in the South China Sea. Bishop Pedro Arigo of Palawan expressed concern that the decision of the Chinese government might be in exchange for something. "It is an exchange for what? It is giving to get something more than what is given," he said in an interview on Nov. 2. He said that if there was a "deal" it should not be at the expense of giving up the country's claim to disputed territory and "not at the expense of surrendering our rights." On Oct. 31, China confirmed that it has allowed Filipino fishermen to sail near the contested Scarborough Shoal.
Hermogenes Esperon, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's security adviser said, "there was no expressed agreement" between the two countries regarding the shoal. "It seems like the traditional rights of our fishermen are being respected," said Esperon in a press briefing. He said the Philippine government will continue to press its territorial claim. Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, meanwhile, welcomed the recent development in the disputed territory and urged the government "not to set aside or renounce our claim." He lauded the "friendly talks" that Duterte had with Chinese officials during his visit to China last month. "We must exhaust all possibility of peace, friendship, and harmonious relationship," said Bishop Arguelles. Retired Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Kaloocan said China’s recent action shows that "we can always discuss and agree on what to do as a community of nations." The prelate called on all stakeholders to participate in a "diplomatic deliberation of issues, concerns, and come up with agreements in the interest of all." In July this year, a United Nations international tribunal declared that the disputed shoal is "a common fishing ground." The Scarborough Shoal is 124 nautical miles from the province of Zambales in the Philippines and within the country's exclusive economic zone.
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