Ex-president Duterte, China confirm pact not to repair PH outpost

Ex-president Duterte, China confirm pact not to repair PH outpost

Duterte, China confirm pact not to repair PH outpo

RUSTY OUTPOST Members of a resupply mission prepare to embark the grounded naval ship BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, one of the nine outposts guarding the West Philippine Sea, to replenish supplies for its troops. —INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The Chinese Embassy in Manila and former President Rodrigo Duterte have confirmed a “gentleman’s agreement” not to repair or reinforce the decrepit World War II-era ship used as a Philippine military outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

But China’s diplomatic mission added in a statement on Friday that the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had initially agreed to maintain that “status quo” agreement to supply the troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin only with food and water and no construction materials.


READ: Duterte denies he ‘conceded’ anything in WPS deal with China


The embassy said the gentleman’s agreement “had effectively helped maintain the overall peace and stability at Ren’ai Jiao,” the Chinese name for the shoal.

“In the beginning of the current Philippine Administration, the said Agreement was still followed in handling the resupply mission of Ren’ai Jiao. But since February 2023, the Philippine side has ceased to abide by the Agreement, categorically denied its existence, and kept stirring up trouble to provoke incidents. This is the reason behind the constant volatility in Ren’ai Jiao in the past year,” it added.

At a press conference in Davao City on Thursday night, Duterte admitted that he entered a “status quo” agreement with China to refrain from bringing construction materials to Ayungin, confirming what former spokesperson Harry Roque’s had earlier revealed.

Duterte said his security adviser and top military officials, including current National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, were aware of and had consented to the “verbal” agreement, which covered not only Ayungin but the entire West Philippine Sea.

Duterte said that the agreement was only intended to avert war and was not meant to compromise the country’s territory or national sovereignty.

READ: Ex-President Duterte-China ‘agreement’ on Ayungin bared, jeered


He said the agreement was not secret as his critics made it appear.

“The only thing I remember (was it was a) status quo (agreement). That’s the word,” he said. “As is, where is, (which means), walang galawan, no movement, no armed patrol there, para walang gulo, iyon ang maalaala ko (so there would be no trouble, that is what I remember),” Duterte said.

“If it was a gentleman’s agreement, it was an agreement that keeps the peace in the South China Sea,” he added. “H’wag kayong maniwala sa mga bulatik nila pagka’t di ako ganyan kagago (Don’t believe their false claims because I’m not that stupid),” he said.

Duterte did not say when this agreement was reached. In 2019, he said he had agreed with China’s President Xi Jinping in 2016 to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine waters in exchange for allowing Filipinos to fish again at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which was seized by China in 2012.

Not keeping its word

Duterte and Xi met for the first time in October 2016 during his first state visit to China. They met again in Lima, Peru, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in the following month.

He met Xi again twice each year in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and once in 2020 and 2022. He spoke with Xi during a private visit to Beijing a year after he stepped down in June 2022.

The Chinese Embassy statement said the Philippines “went back on its word” several times, including its promise to remove the Sierra Madre as far back as 1999, shortly after it was run aground on the shoal, and not to bring construction materials to Sierra Madre.

READ: China insists ‘gentleman’s agreement’ under Duterte administration

Despite this, it said that China maintained communication with “all levels” in the Philippine government to find “ways to effectively manage” the Ayungin “situation.”

In September last year, Beijing invited former Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, who was appointed by Marcos as “special envoy of the president to China for special concerns” to China to discuss the Ayungin problem.

“Earlier this year, the Chinese side and the Philippine side agreed on a ‘new model’ on the management of Ren’ai Jiao situation after rounds of negotiations,” the statement said.

But the embassy lamented the “disregard of China’s goodwill and good faith” by the Philippines.

Reasons for tension

It said Manila “repeatedly broke its promise and went back on its own word” by sending construction materials to the Sierra Madre.

It said the Philippines violated China’s sovereignty and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), especially the provision on refraining from inhabiting uninhabited reefs.

The DOC, which was meant to deescalate conflicting claims to all or parts of the South China Sea, was signed by China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2002. By that time, China had already fortified the “fishermen’s shelter” at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef which it built in 1995 over protests from the Philippines as the reef was within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Philippines intentionally grounded the Sierra Madre four years later.

By the time Duterte took office in 2016, China had already built seven artificial islands, which it had turned into military bases inside the Philippines’ EEZ.

“The Chinese side has no choice but to take all necessary measures to safeguard its own sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the embassy said.

The Chinese Embassy statement echoed remarks made by Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning during a press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

“If the Philippines truly wants to ease tensions at Ren’ai Jiao through dialogue and communication, it needs to honor the commitments and understandings and stop provocations,” Mao said in response to Marcos’ remarks that he was “horrified” to learn about Duterte’s “secret deal” with China.

She cited three reasons behind the “current situation” at Ayungin—first, the Philippines “went back on its word” and refused to tow away the Sierra Madre; second, it denied the existence of the gentleman’s agreement; third, the current administration “abandoned” the “understandings” on Ayungin, particularly on not sending construction materials for large-scale repair and reinforcement of the warship.

There was no immediate comment from the Marcos administration on the statements from Duterte and China. The President is in Washington for the trilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

In March this year, a diplomatic source privy to the talks with Duterte, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the “understanding” with the former president was made three years earlier, in 2021.

He said the two governments agreed that the resupply missions would involve only one vessel and that it must not transport construction or building materials that would reinforce Manila’s sovereignty claims to Ayungin.

Roque last month said the agreement was “to observe status quo. [It] did not include removal of Sierra Madre.”

Rody’s dare

In a text message to the Inquirer on Friday, Roque confirmed Duterte’s statement that the agreement with Beijing was intended to avert war and to “promote peace, increase trade and investments as well as tourist arrivals from China.”

Asked to comment on Marcos’ statement that he was “horrified” about the “secret” pact, Roque said: “PBBM is horrified about an agreement he knows nothing about. Question in many people’s minds is: Is he of sound mind?”

At his press conference, Duterte dared the United States, the Philippines only treaty ally, to deploy its Seventh Fleet to the West Philippine Sea if it was sincere in helping the country defend its sovereignty.

“Why do you have to wait for somebody to die? “If you are (really) interested in defending the Philippines, bakit ka pa maghintay magkaroon ng giyera (why do you have to wait for war to break out), why don’t you go there and give your protection, bakit hintayin pa magkaroon ng patayan (why wait for the slaughter)?” he said.

‘That would mean trouble’

Duterte also said that the President’s frequent trip to the United States, which gave Mr. Marcos a “moral boost,” was a “dangerous trend,” hinting that continued encouragements from the United States could plunge the country into war with China.

He did not disclose how the status quo agreement was worded but he recalled his first meeting with the Chinese leader in Beijing.

Duterte told Xi that he would like to extract oil and other minerals in the part of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines.

“I am afraid you cannot do that,” Xi responded, according to Duterte.

“Why, Mr. President?” he asked the Chinese leader. “I will only get it from that portion of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines,” he told Xi.

“Please, don’t do that for the life of me,” Xi replied. “We are friends, and I do not want to destroy our friendship.”

“What’s on your mind, Mr. President?” Duterte asked.

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“Because that would mean trouble,” Xi said, according to him.“We avoided that controversy especially our plan to extract oil and minerals from our claimed territory,” Duterte said. “I calmed myself down because I knew that the Philippines would be at a losing end if there was a war with China.” —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH

TAGS: BRP Sierra Madre, China, gentleman's agreement, West Philippine Sea

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