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Dissonant voices

Manila Standard

Echoes from so many voices, including the silent ones who speak a lot.

Like on March 27, former president Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said the former had struck a “status quo agreement” with China allowing the Philippines to deliver “only water and food” to Filipino troops stationed at BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded World War II-era warship that serves as Manila’s military outpost in Ayungin.

Under the supposed verbal deal formalized with then Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Manila was banned from bringing construction materials to the dilapidated ship to assert the country’s sovereignty in the area, according to Roque.

Mr. Duterte’s former chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, however, denied the existence of any “gentleman’s agreement” and was straight-forward when he said he talked with Mr. Duterte who categorically told him there was no such agreement.

Now, here is Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., in an open letter posted Tuesday, who warned Filipinos not to fall for any “Chinese propaganda” that would deflect the issue of Beijing’s encroachment in the West Philippine Sea amid controversy over a purported “gentleman’s agreement” – flatly denied by Duterte himself, according to his former spokesman – that restricted the country’s maritime activities during the Duterte administration.

President Ferdinand Marcos, as early as August last year, said he was not aware of any such deal, stressing the Philippines would not concede to removing its vessel from its territory, adding if such a promise (by Duterte) exists: “I rescind that agreement as of now.”

Teodoro said such Chinese propaganda had been highlighting Manila’s supposed violation of a deal between Mr. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping with regard to the conduct of the Philippines’ resupply missions to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Filipinos’ fishing activities in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

We cannot believe the former president would enter into such aberrant deal, since he must be aware that would compromise his country’s territory.

“While we realize that accountability is important in the issue on whether or not a so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was forged with China regarding the BRP Sierra Madre and Ayungin Shoal, we Filipinos must not lose sight of the fact that the main threat to our rights in the WPS is the Chinese government’s illegal activities,” Teodoro said, referring to the waters within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Teodoro is right in emphasizing the core issue on the disputed water is the Chinese government’s illegal activities, not the debated agreements.

Teodoro’s caveat follows China’s repeated uncorroborated claims the Philippines vowed to remove the BRP Sierra Madre a secret “gentleman’s agreement” between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping – an assertion frequently made as an excuse by the Chinese government whenever they we’re condemned for harassment in the Ayungin Shoal.

Teodoro is right in saying “We Filipinos must not lose sight that the main threat to our rights in the WPS is the Chinese government’s illegal activities.”

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