House probe of Duterte-China ‘gentleman’s agreement’ begins

House probe on Duterte-China gentleman’s deal begins

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, before the meeting at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China on April 25, 2019. AP file photo

MANILA, Philippines — Two House of Representatives panels have started its probe on the alleged gentleman’s agreement between former President Rodrigo Duterte and China, supposedly to maintain the status quo over Ayungin Shoal.

The House committee on national defense and security and the committee on the West Philippine Sea started on Monday hearing the issue, in response to House Resolution (HR) No. 1684 and the privilege speech delivered by 1-Rider party-list Rep. Ramon Rodrigo Gutierrez on the Chinese embassy’s alleged interference with local politics.

READ: Ex-President Duterte, China had deal to keep WPS status quo – Roque 

The committee on national defense is headed by Caloocan City 1st District Rep. Oscar Malapitan, while the committee on the West Philippine Sea is led by Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II.

Gonzales presided over the hearing along with Iloilo 5th District Rep. Raul Tupas, vice chair of the national defense panel, as Malapitan was on official travel.

The hearing was attended by key House members like Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr.; committee on bases conversion chairperson and Zambales 1st District Rep. Jefferson Khonghun; committee on public information chair and Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino II; Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro; and Assistant Majority Leader and Lanao del Sur Rep. Zia Alonto Adiong.

Last April 30, no less than House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez confirmed that the House would start the hearing on the gentleman’s agreement before Congress goes on a sine die adjournment by May 25.

According to Romualdez, past administration officials are expected to shed light on the deal.

Talks about the gentleman’s agreement first came out after Duterte’s former presidential spokesperson, lawyer Harry Roque, confirmed to reporters last March 27 that Duterte and China had a deal to maintain the status quo in the Ayungin Shoal.

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

Roque mentioned this when asked why China has been so aggressive when Philippine vessels are trying to conduct resupply missions to troops stationed in BRP Sierra Madre, a Navy ship deliberately ran aground Ayungin Shoal.

The former spokesperson surmised that China may have been acting this way because the Philippines is no longer maintaining the agreement, although he himself admitted that the deal was non-binding and cannot apply under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s term.

Roque’s claim was eventually countered by another former Duterte spokesperson — ex-chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo, who said that the ex-president did not enter into such an agreement with China.

Duterte eventually admitted that there was a status quo gentleman’s agreement with China, that it was about not repairing BRP Sierra Madre.

During the tail end of his April 2024 trip to the United States, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. asked Duterte as to what the latter compromised when he entered into a deal with China.

Marcos also called the agreement a ‘secret deal’, as it appears to have been deliberately kept from the public.

Earlier, Castro welcomed the House’ decision to start its probe of Duterte, as it has been almost a year since she filed HR No. 1216.

“It’s almost a year since we filed House Resolution 1216 to investigate this but they would start hearings only now. I hope the past Malacañang officials like Harry Roque would be summoned, up to (former president) Duterte because he himself knows about his deal with (Chinese president) Xi Jinping,” Castro said.

“People involved in the surrender of the Philippines’ sovereignty should be held accountable, while China should be made to face international law for its continuous intrusion,” she added.