Former President Rodrigo Duterte’s admission that he had an unwritten agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to maintain the status quo in the South China Sea has sparked anger in the Philippines and calls for Duterte to be charged with treason.

Antonio Carpio, a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, told reporters on Friday that Duterte’s “status quo agreement” gave China control over the Second Thomas Shoal – a maritime landmark in the South China Sea where Manila stranded an era of World War II. ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, to reinforce its claims over the surrounding waters.

Carpio said he supported a legislative inquiry proposed by lawmakers to analyze the deal, which he said was “against the national interest.”

“I agree with the investigation in order to draft a law that establishes prison terms for those who commit treason in times of peace. There is a loophole in the law. We have to bridge this gap so that people like Duterte don’t do such things,” Carpio said.

Carpio’s comments came after Duterte held a press conference on Thursday in which he denied making a “gentleman’s agreement” with Xi that would entail the loss of his country’s territorial rights in the South China Sea.

However, the former president admitted that he had agreed with Xi not to build new facilities in the disputed waters to maintain the status quo. On the BRP Sierra Madre, Duterte said food and water could be sent to sailors deployed on the ship, but not materials that could be used to rebuild or reinforce it.

Carpio criticized this part of the agreement on April 1, saying that the lack of repair materials “would cause the warship to sink as it is already rusted.” His comment followed Duterte’s former spokesman Harry Roque’s revelations about the deal last month.

Duterte responded to Carpio’s criticism of the deal during his briefing. “What I don’t like is that even this stupid ex-Judge Carpio is insisting on the gentlemen’s agreement, which he certainly wasn’t present for.

“It would be nice and it would be healthy for Carpio to shut up and not be bothered by things he wasn’t there for.”

Asked about Duterte’s deal with Xi, political analyst Sherwin Ona told This Week in Asia that Duterte has not acted in the interest of the Filipino people since he made the deal after the 2016 Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s claims over Philippine territory. in the South China Sea.

“The nature of this is also questionable because there was no written, video or audio evidence on the matter. I think he should be held accountable for his actions,” said Ona, who is an associate professor of political science at De La Salle University in the Philippines.

“He should explain to the country why he opted for such an agreement. What national interest did he support when he did this?” he added.

On April 3, Senator Risa Hontiveros introduced a resolution calling for an investigation into Duterte’s agreement with China over the West Philippine Sea – Manila’s term for the section of the South China Sea that defines its maritime territory and includes its exclusive economic zone – describing it as a betrayal of the country.

“This ‘gentleman’s agreement’ is a betrayal. Although China, in any case, will most likely attack our resupply missions en route to Ayungin [termo de Manila para o Segundo Thomas Shoal]this farce of an agreement has only given Beijing more ammunition to assert its baseless claims,” Hontiveros said.

Chinese ships have consistently attempted to disrupt resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre. In the latest incident last month, Chinese coast guard ships fired high-pressure water cannons at Philippine ships, injuring two sailors.

“It is our duty to strengthen BRP Sierra Madre. Without her in Ayungin, we will effectively be giving way to China to illegally occupy what is ours. If we stop reinforcing the Sierra Madre, not only will we lose a crucial strategic outpost, but we will also be unable to defend our sovereignty,” Hontiveros added.

Before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. returned home from a trilateral meeting with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts held Thursday in Washington, Marcos Jr. said he was convinced that Duterte had entered into a secret agreement with Xi and I wanted him to reveal everything.

“It is clear to me that something was hidden. There was an agreement that they kept secret from the people. Now we need to know. What did you agree to? What have you committed? Marcos Jr told reporters over the weekend.

“What did you give? Why are our friends in China angry with us for not fulfilling the agreement?” he said.

Manuel Mogato, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino journalist, on Monday added his voice to those calling for Duterte to be prosecuted for treason.

Chinese coast guard ships fire water cannons at a Philippine resupply ship Unaizah on May 4 en route to a resupply mission off Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on March 5.

“Duterte has opened himself to legal action. His confession raised more questions than answers to China’s accusations,” Mogato said, noting that it allowed the country to potentially lose a strategic outpost in the South China Sea.

“Duterte may have committed an act of treason. If he were still in power, the “gentleman’s agreement” would be a serious violation of the Constitution, an impeachable offense. But he is still responsible under the law for committing treasonous activities, which carries a life sentence and a fine of 4 million pesos. [70.360 dólares]”, he added.

Ramon Beleno III, head of the political science and history department at Ateneo De Davao University in southern Davao City, defended Duterte, saying he had made the deal to calm bilateral tensions. But his lack of action following new developments in the contested waters was the main problem, according to Beleno III.

“The status quo was only temporary. Just the first step. But after the situation normalized, what happened? That’s the problem… He didn’t do anything,” Beleno III told This Week in Asia.

“Now, China is using it against us,” he said, referring to speculation that Beijing had stepped up its aggression in the South China Sea because it was under the impression that the pact with Duterte had been violated.

On Saturday, Beijing reiterated its demand that Manila remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the Second Thomas Shoal, calling its presence a violation of China’s sovereignty.

“Before the warship is towed, if the Philippines needs to send relief goods, out of humanitarianism, China is willing to allow it if the Philippines informs China in advance and after on-site verification is carried out. China will monitor the entire process,” the Chinese embassy in Manila said in a statement.

“If the Philippines sends a large amount of construction materials to the warship and tries to build fixed facilities and permanent outposts, China will not accept this and will resolutely stop it in accordance with the law and regulations to uphold sovereignty from China,” the statement added.

Text published by SCMP.


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