EDITORIAL — Secret deal

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � Secret deal

Finally breaking his silence on a raging controversy, Rodrigo Duterte discussed reports that during his presidency, he had entered into a gentleman’s agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that compromised Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.

The press conference on Thursday night, however, added to the confusion over what Duterte promised exactly to the Chinese. He said he had not “conceded anything” to China. “Aside from the fact of having a handshake with President Xi Jinping, the only thing I remember was that status quo. That’s the word – no movement. No movement, no armed patrols there. As is where is, so that there’s no trouble…  So we won’t get into trouble,” Duterte said, adding that he did “not even know the Ayungin Shoal.”

Asked if part of the agreement was for the Philippines not to bring repair and construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as a naval outpost on Ayungin Shoal, Duterte replied: “As is where is, as I said. You cannot bring in materials to repair and improve – none of that.”

But how can you not repair a ship as decrepit as the Sierra Madre? If that rusty naval vessel is allowed to fall into natural disrepair, it would disintegrate into the sea. Duterte often showed special concern for Filipino soldiers and police personnel. What would happen to the Filipino troops stationed on the Sierra Madre if the ship floor gives way or the ceiling collapses on their heads? Even new ships require regular maintenance and repair.

Duterte scoffed at criticisms of this aspect of his deal with Xi and “challenged” the Marcos administration to go ahead and repair the Sierra Madre, at the risk of incurring Beijing’s displeasure. But why should the Philippines worry about Chinese displeasure over whatever Filipinos do within the country’s own sovereign waters and exclusive economic zone?

Duterte held the press conference after President Marcos, responding to questions from reporters, said he was “horrified” that a secret deal had “compromised” Philippine territory, sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. Marcos, who participated in a trilateral summit in Washington with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, said he would seek clarification about the deal from the Chinese upon returning to Manila.

Philippine sovereign rights and maritime economic entitlements in the South China Sea have been defined and affirmed in international arbitration, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The same UNCLOS-based ruling invalidated China’s entire nine-dash-line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea. The Chinese are trespassing on Philippine sovereign waters. And the Philippines can act accordingly.

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