When bullies agree, is it a gentleman’s agreement?

Former president Rodrigo Duterte has admitted shaking hands with China’s President Xi Jinping and agreeing to maintain the status quo in the West Philippine Sea but denied conceding anything to China in a secret gentleman’s agreement.

Kung may agreement man kami ni President Xi Jinping, walang secret agreement ‘yan. We agreed, then, after that, ‘yung agreement namin isasabi namin sa Foreign Affairs [department], particularly, to verbalize everything that has been said. Kung meron man,” Duterte said in a late-night press conference in Davao City last Thursday, April 11.

(If President Xi Jinping and I had an agreement, it was not a secret agreement. We agreed then after that, we will inform the Foreign Affairs, particularly, to verbalize everything that has been said, if there was.)

“I assure you that if it [were] a gentlemen’s agreement, it would always have been an agreement that would keep the peace in the South China Sea,” the 79-year-old former president said.

He said he did not even know where Ayungin Shoal was and referred to it as “Ayunan” and “Alonan” during the press conference.

He also called retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio a “crybaby,” “idiot,” “g*go,” and “ug*k,” apparently for questioning the so-called gentleman’s agreement and saying that he could be held accountable under the anti-graft law for any undue advantage he had given to China.

“Justice Carpio, sabihin ko sa iyo, if China will decide to erect a naval base there [on] the island nearest us, can you stop it? Anong mangyayari? Supreme Court SC ruling mo riyan, papel lang ‘yan, idiot. You cannot stop war.”

“Scholar scholar ka pa diyan, ‘wag mo ako mapabilib. Kilala kita, taga-Davao ka, eh. Maaga ka lang nagka-political connection kaya ka naging justice,” he said.

Duterte advised President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to “stop complaining” and to just “do it and repair [Sierra Madre].”

“I challenge him, kasi sila naman ang nasa gobyerno ngayon. Eh ‘di i-repair nila and gumawa sila doon ng mga bahay-bahay kung saan, if they are really ready for that. Gawain na nila ngayon gusto nilang gawin. I-patrol na nila ‘yung Philippine Navy, the gray ships, and let us see what happens.”

He went on: “Kung tinawagan mo sana ako, eh, ‘di hindi ka makatanggap nito. Ikaw p*tang ina ka hindi ka nakatapos, hanggang second year college ka lang.”

All this talk about a “gentleman’s agreement” started from Harry Roque, Duterte’s former spokesman, who said on March 27 that the deal to keep the status quo called for the Philippines to refrain from bringing in construction materials to repair the BRP Sierra Madre.

The Sierra Madre is a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that was deliberately ran aground on Ayungin Shoal (international name, Second Thomas Shoal) in the Spratly Islands in 1999 to serve as a military outpost and assert the country’s ownership of the area, which is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Told that it was Roque who brought up the “verbal … gentleman’s agreement” after Chinese coast guard ships hit a Philippine supply boat with water cannons on March 23, resulting in injuries to some Navy crew members and heavy damage to the vessel, Duterte said Roque was not yet part of his administration when he agreed with Xi for a “status quo” in the West Philippine Sea.

Alam mo si Harry Roque wala pa doon. Harry Roque joined my administration almost halfway na. Si [Salvador] Panelo ang nandoon, wala si Harry Roque. He was not there because he was not part of the government delegation. So, wala ho akong maisagot d’yan kay Harry Roque,” Duterte said.

Pressed on why Roque made the claim if he was not there, the former president asked the reporter: “Do you know Harry Roque? Do you know him? Do you have an idea of what his personality is? Meron kayong idea?

Panelo and three other members of Duterte’s Cabinet — former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea, former Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana and former Local Government secretary Eduardo Año — have belied Roque’s claim about a “gentleman’s agreement.”

“I was present in the state visit made by FPRRD (Duterte) to China as well as in the dialogue between the Chinese president and FPRRD. No such agreement was made between the two,” said Panelo, who was Duterte’s chief legal counsel.

In essence, however, the agreement that Duterte said he had with Xi was the same as what Roque had disclosed, but Duterte refused to call it a “gentleman’s agreement.”

“As is where is ‘yan. You cannot bring in materials to repair and improve. Totoo ‘yan,” Duterte said. Asked further if there was an agreement, Duterte said: “No agreement, as is where is. Kasi kung Sierra Madre pa lang, if allowed, matagal na na-repair ‘yan, nakauwi dito.”

“Aside from the fact of having a handshake with President Xi Jinping, the only thing I remember was the status quo; that’s the word, na walang galawan. No movement, no armed patrols there. As is where is para walang magkagulo, hindi tayo magkagulo. ‘Yun ang naalala ko,” he said.

The so-called gentleman’s agreement became a serious concern for the Philippines as China insists it be binding and accuses the Philippines of infringing on China’s territory, further claiming ownership of Ayungin Shoal, which it calls Ren’ai Jiao.

It appears that Duterte just doesn’t want to call it a “gentleman’s agreement,” and perhaps rightly so. How can two bullies come up with a “gentleman’s agreement”?

While the Duterte camp regards it as a person-to-person agreement, China wants it to be binding between the two countries, even beyond Duterte’s presidency.

The dictionary defines a gentleman’s agreement as “an arrangement or understanding based upon the trust of both or all parties, rather than being legally binding.”

Besides, a gentleman is someone whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior — courteous, polite, respectful, considerate, decent and kind. It is a word that does not fit to describe Duterte, who is vulgar, brutal, rude, disrespectful, indecent, uncivil. He could not stand being questioned; otherwise, he would shoot back with personal insults to divert from the issue thrown at him.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.