MANILA -- President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday refused to describe the Chinese Coast Guard personnel’s practice of taking catch from Filipino fishermen in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal as “seizure” saying the better term to describe it was “barter."

“It was a barter in exchange for the --- ‘yung isda (fish),,” Duterte said in a speech at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) during the agency’s 120th anniversary celebration.

“It was not an outright seizure,” he said, adding that it was “natural” for fishermen to exchange their goods and services at sea but acknowledged that the problem was “valuation.”

Eh ang problema, ang valuation. Hindi tayo nagkakaintindihan dito (The problem is valuation. We don’t understand each other),” Duterte said.

He added that he did not want to “arrive at judgments” simply because the government was pressured to issue a statement.

Eh tahimik lang ako (I’ll stay quiet). It’s better policy just to…” Duterte said.

On June 11, Filipino fishermen from Zambales appealed to the Palace to limit the Chinese Coast Guards from taking their catch and instead wait for to be given some.

A TV documentary earlier showed how Chinese Coast Guards appeared to forcibly take some of the Filipino fishermen's catch from Panatag Shoal in exchange for water, noodles, and cigarettes.

China, not a pushover

Duterte, meanwhile, emphasized that even if the Philippine government would file “a thousand protests” against China on the West Philippine Sea, the country was simply “not a pushover.”

He claimed that contrary to reports, protests were indeed filed but were not published.

“If I threaten them or file a thousand protests, which we did, hindi lang natin pinublish ‘yung protesta natin (it’s just that the protests weren’t published). We protested actually,” Duterte said.

“China is no pushover. You cannot scare him. And even the United States has shown a little bit of apprehension about how they can --- because there's always a parity now of arms and blood,” he added.

The President added that he did not want to go against China as he did not want it to lead to a “quarrel.”

“This cannot go on because it will lead to a quarrel which will mean not war because I will never, never go into a battle that I cannot win,” Duterte said.

He warned that fighting China might lead to other countries such as Russia joining the fray.

“And you know that if you go against China, Russia will join the fray…if all their nuclear bombs are exploded, it's going to be goodbye for everybody,” he added.

Too early to go into trouble

Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jinping himself advised him that it was “to early to go into trouble” when the former brought up plans to dig for oil in the disputed territory.

“I said that it is my firm belief that we own China Sea. And I will go there to dig oil. I told it straight in the face of Mr. Xi Jinping,” Duterte said.

“And he said that, ‘it’s too early to go into trouble for after all your visit here is a sign that you want good will to prevail,’” he added.

In a chance interview, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed that protests will be filed against China if proven that Chinese Coast Guard have indeed been taking fish by force.

Tuloy po iyan ‘no kasi nga hanggang hindi masasabi na arm’s length or talagang nagkakasundo iyong partido ng mga Pilipino at mga Tsina (That will push through because until we can’t say at arm’s length if there really is an agreement between the parties of the Philippines and China),” Roque said.

Kapag isa lang ang nasusunod eh iyon na nga ‘no hindi patas na barter ang nangyayari (If only one party benefits, then it’s not a fair barter that’s taking place),” he added. (PNA)