The Truth Behind the Philippines-China Relations: No Secret Deal Confirmed

Former Presidential spokesperson and representative Harry Roque, with Rogilda Canilao Celiz, wife of detained Jeffrey "Ka Erik" Celiz (left), and Walter Partosa, husband of detained Lorraine Marie T. Badoy, shows a copy of their petition for Habeas Corpus and Certiorari with an urgent Ex Parte prayer for the Preliminary Mandatory Injunction filed at the Supreme Court on December 11, 2023. Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) anchors Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey Celiz were cited in contempt and detained by the House of Representatives for refusing to answer lawmakers’ questions on the alleged P1.8 billion travel fund of House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. PHOTO BY MIKE ALQUINTO
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Roque’s denial comes in response to recent claims made by a former Philippine Navy officer, who alleged that there was a secret agreement between the two countries regarding the Ayungin Shoal. According to the former officer, the agreement allowed China to conduct military activities in the area, undermining the Philippines’ sovereignty.

However, Roque firmly refuted these allegations, asserting that during his time as the Palace spokesman, there was no such deal in place. He emphasized that any suggestion of a secret pact is baseless and lacks any evidence to support it.

Roque’s statement is significant as it sheds light on the controversies surrounding the Ayungin Shoal, a strategic location in the South China Sea. The shoal has been a subject of territorial disputes between the Philippines, China, and other neighboring countries.

During Duterte’s administration, there were concerns raised by critics and some members of the public about the government’s approach to handling these disputes. Critics argued that Duterte’s friendly stance towards China might compromise the Philippines’ territorial claims and national security.

Roque’s denial seeks to alleviate these concerns by assuring the public that there was no secret agreement that would undermine the country’s interests. However, the controversy surrounding the Ayungin Shoal and the South China Sea disputes remains a contentious issue that requires further examination and diplomatic efforts.

It is crucial to note that the Ayungin Shoal holds significant strategic importance due to its proximity to other disputed territories, such as the Spratly Islands. Its location makes it a valuable asset for any country seeking to assert control over the region.

As the debate continues, it is essential for the government to address these allegations and provide transparency regarding its dealings with China. Public trust and confidence in the government’s ability to protect the country’s interests are vital, especially in matters concerning national security and territorial integrity.

Roque’s denial is likely to spark further discussions and debates among experts, policymakers, and the general public. It highlights the ongoing challenges faced by the Philippines in navigating the complex geopolitical landscape of the South China Sea and underscores the need for a comprehensive and well-defined foreign policy approach.

A “Gentlemen’s Agreement” to Maintain the Status Quo

Roque clarified that what Duterte had secured from Chinese leader Xi Jinping was a “gentlemen’s agreement” to maintain the status quo in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). However, this verbal pact was not formalized into writing in accordance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties. The status quo agreement covered the activities of both nations in the entire WPS and was never Ayungin-centric.

During that time, Beijing allowed Philippine resupply missions to the marooned BRP Sierra Madre on certain conditions. China agreed to allow Philippine resupply missions to the Ayungin Shoal, but the resupply was limited to food and water supply. Filipino ships were prohibited from bringing repair and construction materials to the Second World War-era navy ship. Roque also clarified that the Duterte administration did not promise Chinese officials that the Philippines would remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

This “gentlemen’s agreement” between Duterte and Xi Jinping was seen by some as a temporary solution to maintain peace and stability in the region. However, critics argued that without a formal written agreement, the terms and conditions of the status quo could easily be manipulated or violated by either party. The lack of transparency and legal binding raised concerns among international observers, who believed that a more concrete and legally binding agreement was necessary to ensure the long-term stability of the West Philippine Sea.

Furthermore, the limited scope of the resupply missions to the Ayungin Shoal raised questions about the sustainability of the arrangement. While the provision of food and water was essential for the Filipino troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, the lack of repair and construction materials hindered their ability to maintain the deteriorating vessel. Over time, this could potentially compromise the safety and well-being of the Philippine military personnel stationed on the ship.

Despite these concerns, the Duterte administration defended the “gentlemen’s agreement” as a pragmatic approach to avoid further escalation of tensions in the West Philippine Sea. They argued that a formal written agreement would be difficult to achieve given the complex geopolitical dynamics in the region. Instead, they believed that maintaining an informal understanding with China would provide a temporary solution while allowing for ongoing negotiations towards a more comprehensive and legally binding agreement.

However, as time passed, it became evident that the “gentlemen’s agreement” did not effectively address the underlying territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea. Incidents of Chinese vessels encroaching on Philippine waters continued to occur, raising doubts about the sincerity and effectiveness of the verbal pact. The lack of a clear framework and enforcement mechanism further complicated the situation, leaving the Philippines in a vulnerable position.

As the international community closely monitored the developments in the West Philippine Sea, calls for a more assertive stance from the Philippines grew louder. Many argued that relying solely on a “gentlemen’s agreement” was inadequate to protect the country’s sovereign rights and interests. They urged the Duterte administration to pursue a multilateral approach, engaging other countries in the region to collectively address the challenges posed by China’s assertiveness in the disputed waters.

In conclusion, while the “gentlemen’s agreement” may have provided a temporary respite from escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea, its limitations and lack of legal binding raised concerns about its long-term viability. The need for a more comprehensive and enforceable agreement became increasingly apparent as the situation in the region continued to evolve. The Philippines faced the challenge of balancing its diplomatic relations with China while safeguarding its national interests in the contested waters.

Despite the diplomatic protests and tensions surrounding the South China Sea dispute, the bilateral relations between the Philippines and China have remained strong and cordial throughout Duterte’s term. The two countries have managed to maintain open lines of communication and engage in constructive dialogue to address their differences.

While the Duterte administration has not shied away from filing diplomatic protests and summoning the Chinese ambassador to express concerns over the aggressive acts of the China Coast Guard against Filipino vessels and fishing boats, these actions have not resulted in any territorial losses for the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The Philippines, under Duterte’s leadership, has consistently asserted its sovereignty and territorial rights in the disputed waters, standing firm on its claims and pushing for a peaceful resolution through diplomatic channels. Despite the challenges posed by China’s assertiveness in the region, the Duterte administration has sought to maintain a balanced approach in its dealings with Beijing.

It is worth noting that the Philippine-China relations extend beyond the South China Sea issue. Both countries have recognized the importance of fostering economic cooperation and enhancing people-to-people exchanges. Trade and investment between the two nations have continued to grow, with China being one of the Philippines’ largest trading partners.

Furthermore, cultural and educational exchanges have flourished, promoting understanding and friendship between the peoples of both countries. This has been facilitated through various initiatives such as student exchange programs, academic collaborations, and cultural events that showcase the rich heritage and traditions of both nations.

Overall, despite the diplomatic protests and occasional tensions, the Philippines and China have managed to maintain a strong bilateral relationship during Duterte’s term. This demonstrates the importance of open dialogue, respect for each other’s sovereignty, and a commitment to finding peaceful solutions to disputes. As both countries continue to navigate the complexities of the South China Sea issue, it is hoped that their relationship will further strengthen and contribute to regional peace and stability.

In his open letter, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. emphasized the need for Filipinos to be vigilant in defending the country’s sovereignty against China’s encroachment. He urged his fellow countrymen not to be swayed by Chinese propaganda that aims to divert attention from their government’s illegal activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Teodoro highlighted the importance of not falling into the trap of refocusing the debate on a so-called promise, as this would only serve to enable China to continue with their unlawful actions.
Furthermore, Teodoro directly addressed the claim made by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque regarding a gentlemen’s agreement between the Philippine and Chinese governments concerning the BRP Sierra Madre issue. The Defense Secretary dismissed this claim, stressing the significance of holding both governments accountable for their actions. Teodoro firmly believed that accountability should be the cornerstone of any resolution to the ongoing territorial disputes in the region.
As tensions continued to rise in the South China Sea, Teodoro urged Filipinos to unite and stand firm in safeguarding their nation’s sovereignty. He called upon the Filipino people to remain informed and actively participate in the discussions surrounding territorial disputes. Teodoro acknowledged that defending the country’s sovereignty required a collective effort, and he encouraged Filipinos to voice their concerns and hold their leaders accountable for protecting national interests.
In conclusion, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. made a passionate appeal to his fellow Filipinos, urging them to defend the country’s sovereignty against China’s encroachment. He emphasized the need to remain vigilant, reject Chinese propaganda, and hold both governments accountable for their actions. Teodoro’s open letter served as a rallying cry for unity and active participation in the ongoing discussions surrounding territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Source: The Manila Times

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