Ex-Pres Duterte denies ‘gentleman’s agreement’ on WPS

Apr. 18, 2024
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping pose for posterity prior to the start of the bilateral meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on August 29, 2019. REY BANIQUET/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Former President Rodrigo Duterte denied claims from his former spokesperson that he entered into a “gentleman’s agreement” with Chinese President Xi Jinping that gave up the rights of the country in portions of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

This comes after former spokesperson Attorney Harry Roque told reporters a week ago that Duterte had an informal agreement with the Chinese government during his presidency where there would be no construction of military outposts from both sides in the disputed seas.

Duterte spoke to reporters in Davao City last April 11, Thursday, clarifying that he did not concede any part of the West Philippine Sea to China in his talks with Xi.

“Aside from the fact of having a handshake with President Xi Jinping, there was what I remember a status quo. That’s the word. No movement, no armed patrols there, ‘as is where is’,” the former president said.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Ayungin Shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China did not participate in the arbitration and asserts its claim in a wide area of the South China Sea under its “nine-dash line”.

Duterte said he recalled telling XI that the Philippine government intended to engage in oil exploration in the WPS as basis for asserting its territorial rights.

“We would insist that China Sea –there is part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines, and since I would want to get savings instead of importing (oil) from an exporting country, I will dig my oil there. I would just want to let you know,” Duterte said this is what he told his Chinese counterpart.

This allegation against Duterte surfaced after a series of confrontations between Chinese and Philippine coast guards along the Ayungin shoal since last year.

Last March, the Chinese Coast Guard attempted to block a Philippine resupply vessel bound for BRP Sierra Madre by using water cannons, resulting in the injury of some Filipino crew members.

While Duterte denies this agreement, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin asserted that the Philippine government “has been going back on its words and provoking China”.

Roque defended the former president’s position, saying this “enabled friendly relations and advance the Philippines’ interest in terms of investment and trade.”  

But Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who was part of the legal team that filed the arbitral case, said if the agreement was true, it meant a “disguised surrender” of the country’s rights “ to China.

Duterte has been criticized by opposition and analysts for his soft stance with China as it sought financial investments from the latter for its infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build program.

Meanwhile, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told reporters he was not aware of such an agreement, as he instructed officials to reach out to the former president for clarification.

The current president’s response to the tension is strengthening maritime security with the United States under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said she is considering a resolution to probe this so-called agreement, calling this a possible “act of treason”. (davaotoday.com)

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