Abella: 'Friendly agreement' allows Filipino fishers in Panatag

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Palace spokesman Ernie Abella

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Presidential Spokesperson Ernie Abella says there's no formal agreement between the Philippines and China regarding fishing rights in the disputed Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, but the fact is that Filipinos are allowed in the area — for now.

Abella told reporters on Wednesday that there was no permanent guarantee that Filipinos wouldn't be chased away by the Chinese coast guard in the future.

"Nothing official has been declared regarding the matter. But... as the President has promised, the fishermen are now allowed, are now free to harvest in the area," Abella said.

Regarding the arbitration case which the Philippines won, Abella said the matter would be brought up when the appropriate time comes.

He said the current arrangement at the disputed shoal was the result of the talk between President Rodrigo Duterte and President Xi Jinping of China — which he was not privy to since it was a private meeting between the two leaders.

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Abella added Filipinos were not asserting territorial rights or ownership of the contested sandbar.

"As far as I know, nobody owns that place. These are just economic rights that we, that we are accessing."

Meantime, Abella said the upcoming visit of Duterte to Thailand was meant to pay respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

He said it would just be a very brief visit, with no discussions along the lines of economic or other bilateral relations.