AMID CONFLICTING positions among the President’s men on the legality and enforceability of the 2016 verbal fishing agreement between the leaders of China and the Philippines, Malacañang on Thursday asserted that there is “no room” for any other interpretations on the matter, stressing that the deal is “valid.”

“As far as the President is concerned, and as far as I’m concerned also, very clear ang sinabi niya (what he said). There is no room for any interpretation,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo told reporters in a press briefing on Thursday when asked to clarify the confusion on the issue.

He explained, “There’s no contradiction naman. Ang sinasabi nila, the policy is huwag papasok sa EEZ (exclusive economic zone). Ang sinasabi naman ni Presidente, ang problema nga diyan, iyang policy na iyan ay sila ang may hawak ng buong karagatan. Kaya hindi natin pupuwedeng ipagpilitan ang sarili natin sa kanila kasi nagri-react din sila (What they are saying is that the policy is that the Chinese should not go within the EEZ. What the President is saying is the problem is, that policy, the Chinese have a hold on the entire sea. That’s why we cannot insist on our position because they also react).”

Kaya nga (That’s why) I want to avoid any armed hostilities,” he added.

On Wednesday Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said the verbal agreement between China’s President Xi Jinping and President Rodrigo R. Duterte may represent “an agreement to come to an agreement.”

He also said that if this agreement amounts to a treaty, it has to “pass through the Senate.”

For his part, Foreign Affairs Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said the agreement “cannot be enforced” because it is “verbal” in nature.

Mr. Panelo further said that the Cabinet members “are entitled to their own interpretation,” but at the same time shared the President’s frustration over being misunderstood on the issue.

The spokesman said that for the President, it is not a question of “Did you allow?” Chinese vessels in the EEZ but that China firmly believes it has ownership of the entire South China Sea.

Kaya nga nag-uusap tayo na huwag tayong magkasakitan, iyon ang hindi ninyo naiintindihan (That is why we are talking so that we don’t end up injuring each other, that is what you do not understand). That’s exactly the word of the President.” — Arjay L. Balinbin