EXCLUSIVE: PH won't accept China's 'goodwill,' but no apology needed

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano says the Philippines won't be asking an apology after the Chinese Coast Guard took local fishermen's catch.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 15) — The Philippines is not buying China's position that it is allowing Filipinos to fish in disputed waters out of goodwill — but it won't ask for an apology either.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source on Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano was asked whether the Philippines would ask for an apology from the eastern giant after the Chinese Coast Guard took local fishermen's catch.

"I don't think so," said Cayetano. "I think they've apologized... I mean, in their investigation, then they will apologize."

A video released earlier this month showed alleged members of the Chinese Coast Guard taking away over ₱4,000 worth of fish caught by Filipino fishermen around Scarborough Shoal, a disputed area and a traditional fishing ground for locals. While Cayetano classified the event as an "incident," government critics have slammed it as harassment and even theft.

While Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua assured it would look into the matter, Beijing's Foreign Ministry clarified that "appropriate arrangement(s)" had been made allowing Filipinos to fish in relevant waters "out of goodwill."

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Thursday warned against following China's rhetoric. He emphasized that a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling, and not China, allows the Philippines to fish there.

"I'm worried if we accept their narrative that it's their goodwill, we'll be giving up our legal right. We have a right to be there, whether they like it or not," said Carpio.

However, Cayetano said that the Philippines was not accepting China's reasoning.

"We don't accept that, and they know that we don't," said Cayetano.

"We're saying the only reason you're there is because we're peace-loving, but that's ours," he added. "And we put it on the record na mali iyon [that it's wrong]."

The secretary explained that China issued that statement as it was being consistent with its previous stand.

"Either we don't talk and palakasan nalang and lugi tayo sa kanila [hold out against each other and we get shortchanged], or we talk and we have a tentative agreement, but both sides will give their own reasons," said Cayetano.

He added that "a tentative fishing agreement" was in the works with the eastern giant, which involved talks between Philippine Coast Guard, military, fisheries, and agriculture officials and their Chinese counterparts.

However, Cayetano admitted it was only a verbal agreement and "nothing [is written]."

Carpio is pushing for the Philippines to sign an agreement with not only China, but Vietnam. He said that it would be an opportunity to "[apply] the ruling by state practice."

The agreement should cover are the allowable quantity of fish that can be caught and a tax on them for the practice to be sustainable, Carpio added.

President Rodrigo Duterte's government has established warmer ties with the eastern giant, amid its military presence on disputed islands. Duterte has promised to bring up the ruling some time under his term, but has repeatedly stressed the country "cannot afford to go to war."

Administration critics and maritime experts want the government to file diplomatic cases and protests against what they regard as intimidating Chinese activity in the region, from the local catch being taken to the landing of bomber planes. They also fear that China's billions of dollars worth of investments in the Philippines under Duterte's term may compromise the country's territorial claim in West Philippine Sea.

CNN Philippines' Chad de Guzman contributed to this story.