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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Conflicting Rody, China words ‘propel’ House probe – solons

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The House of Representatives is “propelled” by conflicting statements from both the camp of ex-President Rodrigo Duterte and the Chinese government to investigate their alleged gentleman’s agreement concerning the West Philippine Sea.

Zambales Rep. Jay Khonghun said at the forefront of the upcoming inquiry this week lies a pivotal question: “Who is lying — Duterte or China —regarding the existence of the contentious agreement?”

“It’s crucial to ascertain the truth if indeed the Duterte administration struck such a deal with China,” he said. “This isn’t just about conflicting narratives. It’s about upholding integrity and accountability.”

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro also demanded full disclosure of the Duterte-Xi agreement.

“Now that Duterte has finally admitted to entering a secret deal with China, it is imperative that Congress hear House Resolution 1216 that we have filed as early as last year,” she said.

“We must know all that there is to this unpatriotic deal, and the ones responsible should be held accountable. Duterte might have sold the West Philippine Sea without us knowing it,” she added.

In a separate development, the Chinese Coast Guard tailed the Philippine research vessel BRP H. Ventura and the Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Gabriela Silang early Sunday morning as the Philippine vessels were sailing towards Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal.

International advocacy group SeaLight Director Ray Powell said the Philippine vessels stopped for eight hours, some 35 nautical miles from Luzon’s coast and the edge of China’s nine-dash line.

While it was unclear why the Philippine ships had halted for several hours, they eventually set sail for the Bajo de Masinloc, also known as the Scarborough Shoal, at 10 a.m., with the CCG vessel shadowing them, he said.

Meanwhile, the “gentleman’s agreement” entered into by Duterte with the Chinese leader Xi is no longer binding, and at worst, unconstitutional, congressional leaders said Sunday.

“The former President told a fellow President that to avoid tension from further escalating, they will supply just personal things, foods and water to Sierra Madre… it is obviously a personal agreement,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel said in a radio interview.

“Therefore after the end of (Duterte’s) term, that’s no longer binding to the country…. We now have a new President, the architect of our foreign policy, the commander in chief of the military… a different person,” he pointed out.

Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales, on the other hand, said Sunday that the agreement “did not pass the process” required for a treaty or executive agreement.

“The so-called agreement, if any, is constitutionally void since it is tantamount to the surrender of our country’s sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone,” he said.

“Such an agreement will be equivalent to a new national policy, which must be enshrined in a treaty to be submitted to the Senate for ratification before it can take effect,” said Gonzalez, who is the chairman of the House special committee on the West Philippine Sea.

Gonzalez pointed out that Ayungin Shoal is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone as reaffirmed by the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea arbitration case.

“Likewise, under Article 56 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the coastal state, which in this case is clearly the Philippines, has the right to build and maintain structures within its EEZ,” he said.

“This would clearly mean that our country has every right to protect and safeguard all features within our EEZ including the Ayungin Shoal,” Gonzalez said.

Assuming that there is indeed an agreement between Duterte and China, it would not be an enforceable agreement.

“There are still some necessary criteria that we should satisfy before it is considered legally binding here in the Philippines. First, for the alleged agreement to be enforceable, it must be in the form of an Executive Agreement. Since there is no official record under our records, the alleged agreement may not be considered an executive agreement,” Gonzales said.

Since it is not in the form of a treaty or an executive agreement, then the secret pact of Duterte with Xi must not be honored by the Philippines.

Powell added that an unusually large number of Chinese vessels had been gathering at the shoal for the past two days.

This could be China’s response to the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority’s announcement that the Philippines would conduct a hydrographic survey in the area, he told DZBB radio. Hydrographic surveys map the physical features of an underwater area.

Powell said that China had harassed Vietnam as the latter conducted its hydrographic survey of its exclusive economic zone, even allegedly attempting to cut the cables of Vietnamese equipment.

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