SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Hello, telephone?
That’s a Pinoy joke that may be pitched to President Marcos and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

In this digital age, how hard is it for the two men to pick up cell phones and clarify raging issues?

Their failure to do so says a lot about the status of their ties.

Instead of talking, the two have been issuing statements concerning each other through mainstream and social media. Duterte, in his latest press conference that was streamed live Thursday night, asked why BBM didn’t simply call him to clarify his agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which Duterte forged verbally and sealed with a handshake during his presidency.

As of last night, the call had not yet happened. Instead, BBM, in a talk with Philippine media in Washington on Friday, asked the journalists to be the one to seek clarifications from Duterte.

During this press conference, BBM also doubled down on his criticism of what he prefers to call a “secret deal” because, he noted, the discussion was clandestine and the agreement was not made public.

Duterte’s latest salvo came on the heels of BBM’s statement hours before leaving for the US, that he was “horrified” by a “secret agreement” that “compromised” Philippine territory, sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. There were no words qualifying that BBM was unsure of the secret deal and its negative impact on Philippine rights in the WPS.

Duterte, in his press conference, seemed equally horrified by BBM’s statement. After six years, we’ve learned to tell the depth of Duterte’s ire by the amount of vitriol he spews, with personal attacks reserved for those he dislikes the most.

In vintage Duterte, his press conference was peppered with expletives, with insults thrown in about BBM being a “crybaby” with only two years of college. Duterte did not repeat his accusation about BBM’s supposed cocaine use and inclusion in the watchlist of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, but his supporters are insisting that the story is true and brushing aside the denial of the PDEA as self-preservation under Marcos 2.0.

*      *      *

In Washington, BBM responded to Duterte’s tirade with more questions about the deal with Xi. “Why is it secret? Why is it secret?” BBM wants to know why a “veteran lawyer” like Duterte agreed to a deal involving national sovereignty without documentation either on paper or video. And why didn’t Duterte’s team inform the incoming Marcos administration about the deal?

BBM was clearly addressing not just Duterte but the nation when he remarked: “Now we need to know, what did you agree to? What did you compromise? Ano ’yong pinamigay ninyo, bakit nagagalit ang kaibigan natin sa China na hindi kami sumusunod?”

The questions are valid, although Duterte has answered them, in his usual muddled way. It was a verbal agreement, he explained in his press conference, to maintain the status quo in contested waters and prevent the escalation of conflict.

He admitted that his agreeing to the “as is, where is” status quo in the WPS included no repairs on the BRP Sierra Madre, the Philippine Navy outpost on Ayungin Shoal.

Even new ships, however, require regular maintenance and repair. If the rusty Sierra Madre would be allowed to fall into disrepair, it would disintegrate into the sea in no time, and where would that leave the Filipino troops manning the outpost? Should they float using salbabida while guarding Ayungin?

Confronted with this issue, Duterte snapped that if BBM wanted to have repairs done on the ship, then the President should go ahead – and see how China would react.

We already know the answer to this one: water cannon attacks by the China Coast Guard, which is under military command. Beijing has said it would not allow the delivery of construction and repair materials on a ship within Philippine sovereign waters, and is demanding that Manila honor its supposed commitments.

*      *      *

For a team that won on a platform of continuity, it’s noteworthy that the Marcos 2.0 administration wasn’t apprised of this verbal deal between Duterte and Xi.

Perhaps Duterte didn’t realize the weight that Beijing would place on a commitment that isn’t in black and white, which he refuses to describe as a gentleman’s agreement. He probably thought any undocumented deal would have no bearing in a new administration, and BBM has a free hand in crafting foreign policy.

Beijing is trying to play the divide and rule card in this issue. But on the WPS and China, all surveys have consistently shown overwhelming support among Filipinos for the policy that BBM is pursuing. Duterte’s pivot to Beijing was one area where, despite his enormous popularity, his minions refused to go along with him, as all the reputable non-commissioned surveys showed.

*      *      *

As BBM and Duterte exchange barbs, the question at this point is, quo vadis, UniTeam?

Duterte has consistently shown a dislike for BBM, and it’s not the first time that he has accused the current President of cocaine use and weakness. Duterte skipped BBM’s inaugural and looked morose at his daughter Sara’s inauguration as Vice President.

But Sara is still Daughterte. With the VP under siege by forces headed by Speaker Martin Romualdez, the Dutertes have been circling the wagons, with the father coming to the defense of his headstrong daughter.

VP Sara has so far resisted calls for her to quit her Cabinet post amid her relatives’ calls for the resignation of bossing BBM.

In Washington, BBM defended Sara, sort of, over her “no comment” on the WPS issue, saying it wasn’t “the place” of the VP / education secretary to talk about it.

But the cracks keep showing. For his brief visit in Washington, BBM named the VP as government caretaker – together with Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III. Malacañang said it was not the first time that the three officials were named government caretakers.

Video footage indicate that the VP and BBM’s closest adviser, First Lady Liza Marcos, are no longer on speaking terms.

The Dutertes are emerging as the most significant opposition to the Marcos 2.0 administration.

For those of us in the peanut gallery, who needs show biz when our politicians are so entertaining?

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