Duterte admin execs: No gentleman's agreement with China

By Filane Mikee Cervantes

May 21, 2024, 3:32 pm Updated on May 21, 2024, 3:48 pm

<p>Duterte administration Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana (left) and executive secretary Salvador Medialdea <em>(Photo courtesy of HRep Facebook)</em></p>

Duterte administration Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana (left) and executive secretary Salvador Medialdea (Photo courtesy of HRep Facebook)

MANILA – Former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea on Tuesday denied there was ever a "gentleman's agreement" on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) forged during official meetings between former president Rodrigo R. Duterte and Chinese President Xi.

During the joint hearing of the Committee on National Defense and Security and Special Committee on WPS at the House of Representatives, Medialdea said Duterte and Xi had eight official meetings between October 2016 and August 2019.

"In all the eight official meetings, he was always accompanied by his incumbent foreign affairs secretaries," Medialdea said.

"Wala po (There is no deal) whatsoever, including the two where I was personally present," he stressed.

Medialdea said he attended two meetings in November 2018 and August 2019.

"Of these two official meetings I attended, no gentleman's agreement ever took place between former President Duterte and President Xi. President Duterte being a lawyer, knew fully well that it is foolhardy to enter into agreement, especially a gentleman's agreement at that, with the president of the People's Republic of China on matters involving sovereign rights," Medialdea said.

The meetings Medialdea pertained to include Duterte's October 2016 state visit to China; Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting in Peru, November 2016; 1st Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, May 2017; 25th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Vietnam, November 2017; Boao Forum for Asia, April 2018; Xi state visit to the Philippines, November 2018; 2nd Belt and Road Forum, April 2019; and Duterte's official visit to China, August 2019.

Former Department of National Defense (DND) secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, said he has "attended practically all" the Duterte-Xi meetings from 2016 to 2019.

He highlighted that in the last meeting in 2019, Duterte used the arbitral tribunal ruling to assert the country’s sovereign rights in the WPS.

"It was very telling that at their last meeting in 2019, President Duterte asserted in front of everybody in the bilateral meeting that he is asserting the rights of the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea on the basis of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the arbitral ruling, upon which President Xi also said that, 'we also claim the area'," Lorenzana, the chair of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority since 2022, said.

"President Xi also added that according to him that time and I think this should be borne out of the minutes of the meeting between them… he said to President Duterte, 'we cannot resolve this in our lifetime but maybe our children and grandchildren will be smart enough to find a solution'," he added.

The two House panels are looking into the Chinese embassy’s continued citation of an alleged “gentlemen’s agreement” to justify China’s actions against Philippine resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal.

Duterte’s former spokesperson, Harry Roque, had previously claimed that Duterte had a verbal agreement with China not to construct and repair Philippine facilities in the WPS.

Status quo commitment

Included in the alleged agreement is the prohibition in sending of construction materials to BRP Sierra Madre, the grounded Philippine warship in Ayungin Shoal that serves as the country’s outpost.

Medialdea said the status quo being maintained is the previous commitment allowing the delivery of food and water to Filipino troops on BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal since 2013, prior to Duterte assuming presidency.

"The status quo at the Ayungin Shoal, where BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated warship which has served as a Philippine military outpost in a low elevation reef since 1999, was in a 2013 commitment of former Defense secretary (Voltaire) Gazmin to the Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing that he would only deliver food and water to the marines stationed at the vessel," Medialdea said.

No records

During Monday's hearing, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Aileen Mendiola-Rau said they have no record of a “gentleman’s agreement” as cited by the Chinese Embassy.

“The DFA reiterates its firm position that the Philippines has not entered into any agreement abandoning its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and continental shelf, including on the Ayungin Shoal. On issues of such importance, any agreement or arrangement would be made only if authorized by the highest level of government. Only the President of the Republic of the Philippines can approve or authorize agreements entered into by the Philippine government on matters pertaining to the WPS and the South China Sea,” Rau said.

DND Undersecretary Ignacio Madriaga also said they "do not have any record in our possession detailing or potentially showing contours of a deal."

"This issue, if allowed to continue, is providing opportunity for China to utilize our democratic institutions and processes to propagate its illegal and deceptive narratives designed to undermine the faith and support of the people in our government,” Madriaga said.

Senior State Counsel Fretti Ganchoon said the Department of Justice has not seen the alleged agreement. (PNA)