House of Representatives

House asks ex-Duterte officials to explain absence during probe on China secret deal

Kaycee Valmonte

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House asks ex-Duterte officials to explain absence during probe on China secret deal

GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT PROBE. After skipping the first day of investigation, the House of Representatives on Monday, May 20, through a joint panel by the committees on national security and defense and the West Philippine Sea, issued a show cause order to former Cabinet officials of ex-chief executive Rodrigo Duterte.

House of Representatives handout

'It's incumbent on this committee to require those very important actors in the gentleman's agreement to appear before this committee,' Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel says

MANILA, Philippines – A joint House panel has formally sought the explanation of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet officials for failing to attend a crucial hearing on West Philippine Sea issues.

The House committee on national defense and security and the committee on West Philippine Sea slapped the show cause order against former defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, former national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., and former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea, after not showing up during their session on Monday, May 20.

The joint panel was investigating the gentleman’s agreement allegedly forged by the former chief executive with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Just over 30 minutes into the session, Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel raised that the agreement with China would have been done confidentially and only officials from the previous administration can shed light on the deal. (READ: Marcos to Duterte: What did you compromise in ‘secret agreement’ with China?)

“The present resource persons, I’m very sure, could not answer our questions,” Pimentel said.

“It’s incumbent on this committee to require those very important actors in the gentleman’s agreement to appear before this committee… and if need be, then we will use our powers under the Constitution to compel them to come here,” he added.

Only Medialdea had a representative attend on his behalf, explaining through a letter that he had prior commitments. Another official – whom the congressmen did not name – apparently informed the committee of his absence through informal channels.

“Our protocol states that if the explanation is not acceptable for the members of the committee or if they have not offered any excuses for their absence, the next part of the protocol is we issue a show cause order,” Antipolo 2nd District Representative Romeo Acop said over two hours into the hearing.

The motion to call on the invited officials to explain their absence was approved.

‘Gentleman’s agreement’

China claims that under the supposed agreement, Beijing would not harass resupply missions of the Philippines to BRP Sierra Madre as long as Manila does not bring in construction materials to Ayungin shoal. (READ: Año: ‘Gentleman’s agreement’ with China harmful to PH interests, Constitution)

Duterte denied that an agreement was made. His close aids, however, had different answers. Duterte’s former spokesman Harry Roque noted that a deal was made with China to “respect the status quo” in the West Philippine Sea, but Duterte’s other former spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, claims that no such deal exists.

Roque would later “clarify” that the deal made did not include provisions related to resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal.

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Representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Department of National Defense, the National Security Council, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines said they did not have a record or are not aware of the alleged secret deal. The DOJ did note that if such agreement exists, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. already canceled it.

The joint panel has directed the DFA to present a list of officials who traveled with Duterte during his state visit to China in 2016, and another document listing down all of his official visits and his official delegation throughout the course of his presidency.

ACT Teachers Representative France Castro said she also wants to look into other officials who may have dealt with China during Duterte’s term. – with reports from Bea Cupin and Dwight de Leon/ Rappler.com

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