MAJORITY of Filipinos think that the Philippines should assert its right to disputed islets in the South China Sea and arrest Chinese fishermen who destroy marine resources in the area, according to a poll by the Social Weather Stations (SWS).

The polling company said 87 percent of Filipinos shared these sentiments based on a poll conducted last month, it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s plan to discuss in his yearly address to Congress a verbal deal with China allowing its nationals to fish in the waters would make it a binding legal agreement, Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio said on Friday.

“The moment that he makes that statement in the state of the nation address is a final confirmation that that verbal agreement is now a legal agreement,” the magistrate said at a briefing in Taguig City.

“We are terribly at the losing end of that agreement because we are opening the entire West Philippine Sea to China’s fishing fleet, in exchange for our fishermen to fish in the periphery of Scarborough Shoal,” he said

Mr. Duterte on Monday said he would educate Filipinos during his annual speech on the deal with China, which some critics said was illegal.

Mr. Duterte has sought closer investment and trade ties with Beijing, including over resources in the South China Sea, since taking power in 2016.

His predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino III, sued China before an international arbitration tribunal over its territorial claims, and won. He also strengthened Philippine alliance with the US to try to check China’s expansion in the South China Sea. — Charmaine A. Tadalan