West Philippine Sea

Marcos on getting to the bottom of Duterte-China ‘secret deal’: ‘Maraming palusot’

Dwight de Leon

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Marcos on getting to the bottom of Duterte-China ‘secret deal’: ‘Maraming palusot’

DIALOGUE. Then-Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting in Beijing on August 29, 2019.


(1st UPDATE) 'I have tried to get in touch with former officials of the previous administration...and I have to tell you, I haven't gotten a straight answer out of anyone,' says President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed frustration over conflicting information regarding the “secret deal” struck between his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte and China on the West Philippine Sea years ago.

Beijing has been raising this gentleman’s agreement between the two countries, now that Manila has adopted a stronger stance on defending the Philippines’ sovereignty in its territorial waters.

Marcos said he has three questions, but the last two remain unanswered: is there really a secret agreement, what was the secret agreement about, and why was it kept a secret?

Marcos on getting to the bottom of Duterte-China ‘secret deal’: ‘Maraming palusot’

“These are very simple questions, but I’m finding a deal of difficulty finding the answers because I hear one thing, and another thing, and another thing. It’s all very…maraming palusot (There are so many excuses),” Marcos lamented during the presidential forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on Monday, April 15.

“I have tried to get in touch with former officials of the previous administration who could possibly have been involved in these discussions and I have to tell you, I haven’t gotten a straight answer out of anyone,” he added.

A senior Chinese official, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Manila Times in March, said that during Duterte’s time as president, Beijing agreed not to harass resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre, the dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that serves as the country’s military outpost in Ayungin Shoal, as long as Philippine vessels don’t bring in construction materials. 

Sought for confirmation, former presidential spokesman Harry Roque said later that month that the Duterte administration agreed with China to keep the status quo in the West Philippine Sea, but insisted the deal did not tackle specifics such as resupply missions in Ayungin Shoal.

Another Duterte-era official, former chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, denied in early April the existence of a deal to maintain the status quo in the territorial waters.

On Thursday, April 11, Duterte said there was no gentleman’s agreement at all, just an understanding with Beijing not to let armed patrols move into the West Philippine Sea to avoid further tensions.

Marcos said last week he was “horrified” by the thought that the Philippine government compromised national sovereignty through a secret agreement.

“Why is there not one single document that contains the agreement? Why is there not one shred of evidence that can show that this agreement exists? Why is it that during the transition period between the previous administration to this administration, no one mentioned a secret agreement?” Marcos also said on Monday.

Asked whether Duterte could be held legally liable, Marcos said he cannot see how, given that there is no documentary evidence of the agreement as of the moment.

Tensions in the West Philippine Sea have escalated since Marcos rose to the presidency, with numerous harassment tactics by China against Philippine vessels. – Rappler.com

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.