‘Secret agreement’ with China ‘horrifies’ Marcos

Helen Flores, Pia Lee Brago - The Philippine Star
�Secret agreement� with China �horrifies� Marcos
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on January 26, 2024.
STAR / KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos is seeking clarification from the Chinese government on the supposed gentleman’s agreement on the West Philippine Sea entered into by Manila and Beijing during the Duterte administration, even as he warned such a deal could have “compromised” the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the country.

Marcos said he would meet with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian upon his return from the US, where he is set to attend a trilateral summit with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida this week.

The first-ever trilateral meeting among the US, Japan and the Philippines in Washington comes on the heels of heightened tensions between the Philippines and China over territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

“I am horrified by the idea that we have compromised… – through a secret agreement, the territory, the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Philippines. That is something – we still have to clear it up, we are waiting for Ambassador Huang to come back from Beijing… and I asked to see him, maybe when I come back,” the President said in an interview in San Juan City on Wednesday.

Marcos said he wants the Chinese envoy to clarify the alleged agreement and explain whether this was a formal or personal deal.

“We want him (Huang) to explain who (China) is talking to? Who are you really talking to? What did you agree on? Was this an official thing or was it a personal thing? What is this? Because we have no record, no matter where you look, there is no record,” the Chief Executive said in Filipino.

“So, it was all done in secret. Why did they do it? If they did, why did they keep it a secret? I’m really wondering. So, it’s not a good situation,” the President said.

Harry Roque, who served as former president Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential spokesman, earlier said the Philippines and China agreed to keep the status quo in the territorial waters, meaning only basic supplies, not building materials, would be deployed to the BRP Sierra Madre, the rusty ship grounded at Ayungin Shoal since 1999 that serves as a Philippine Navy outpost.

Marcos maintained he was not aware of any agreement between Manila and Beijing since he assumed office in June 2022, where the two countries supposedly agreed to keep the status quo in the WPS.

“We don’t know, it was a secret agreement. We don’t know anything about it. There is no documentation, no record, there is no – we were not briefed when I came into office,” Marcos told reporters after attending an event in San Juan City.

“We still don’t know what that agreement really is. But if – it is said in that agreement that we have to compromise with other countries in order to move in our own territory… it must be difficult to follow that kind of agreement,” he said.

Asked whether he already brought up the matter with Duterte, Marcos said they are talking with the former leader’s officials.

“We’re talking to his former officials, maybe not the president himself, but always former officials. We’re asking what was that? Please explain to us so we know what to do. And we still haven’t gotten a straight answer,” Marcos said.

In a statement, Salvador Panelo, chief legal counsel of the past administration, said no agreement – whether formal or informal – regarding the WPS was entered into by Duterte with China.

Panelo said three former Duterte Cabinet officials – executive secretary Salvador Medialdea, defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and interior secretary Eduardo Año – have issued separate statements denying such a gentleman’s deal regarding the WPS.

Año now Marcos’ national security adviser said he was present during Duterte’s visit to China as well as in the dialogue between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China: No ‘sleeper cells’

The Chinese embassy in Manila yesterday denied the existence of Beijing’s “sleeper cells” in the Philippines.

The embassy claimed it is a fabrication and disinformation against China, which always “adheres” to non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.

The military and the Department of Information and Communications Technology are investigating Chinese companies allegedly pretending to be American or European enterprises allegedly recruiting Filipino soldiers as analysts online.

“Those are merely malicious speculation and groundless accusation against China with the purpose of inciting Sinophobic sentiments in the Philippines. We firmly oppose this,” the embassy said.

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