By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

Former President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping (PNA file photo)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Saturday (Manila time) said he is open to sit down with former president Rodrigo Duterte and discuss the latter’s “secret deal” with China in connection with the South China Sea issue.

“Baffled” by Duterte’s controversial deal with China, Marcos said he wants to ask his predecessor about the truth, scope, and the reason for keeping the alleged “gentleman’s agreement” with Chinese President Xi Jinping a secret.

At the same time, he wanted the former president to turn over all documents related to the supposed gentleman’s agreement entered into by the former leader with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which the Chinese embassy in Manila had confirmed.

“So, now, with the confirmation of the Chinese Embassy. We now know that there was a secret agreement. Now, this is the second question that I have – what is contained in the (secret) agreement?” Marcos said in a media interview in the United States (US).

“Ano ba ang pinangako ng Duterte administration sa China? Dahil hindi pa natin alam eh. Ngayon lang tayo nakakatiyak na mayroon pala talagang agreement (What did the Duterte administration promise to China? Because we don’t know yet. We are just sure now that there really is an agreement). Tawag nila (They call it) gentleman’s agreement. Tawag ko diyan (I call it a) secret agreement,” he added.

Marcos said he is puzzled why Duterte being a “very experienced lawyer,” decided not to document, record, or announce the agreement.

He urged Duterte to hand him all the documents the latter had, about his supposed deal with China.

“Send them to me and then we’ll sit down. Send those documents to me. And then I’ll sit down and discuss it. I’ll do my homework for him. Just the way I work. I read all the materials first so when I’m in the conference, I can ask intelligent questions,” Marcos said, when asked if he is willing to discuss the issue with Duterte.

“So send me the materials personally to me,” he added, noting that Duterte need not give it to other parties, such as the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Marcos said he is opposed to entering into a secret agreement with China as it could compromise the Philippines’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He said the Filipino people, elected officials, and the Senate, which is in charge of ratifying treaties entered into by the government, must be aware of any agreements entered into by the Philippines with another sovereign state.

“It should be known by the local officials. It should be known by everyone. Because in that way, you are accountable. If it’s a bad decision, you’re accountable. Sabihin n’yo, mali ‘yung ginawa ninyo. Di ba? Ano ‘yung tinatago mo, bakit di n’yo sinabi? (Admit that what you did was wrong. What are you hiding? Why didn’t you tell us?) What are you hiding? Why was it secret?” Marcos said.

Duterte on Thursday denied that he had a “gentleman’s agreement” with Xi during his term, saying the only thing he remembers was the agreement with the Chinese leader “to keep the peace in the South China Sea.”

No need to be involved

Meanwhile, Marcos defended Duterte’s daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio, over her supposed “silence” on the SCS issue.

While Duterte-Carpio is part of the current administration as Education Secretary, it is not part of her role to talk about China, Marcos said.

He, however, assured the Filipino people that he and Duterte-Carpio are on the same page in dealing with China and its agenda.

“So, I think we are all in line because I’m very sure that if Inday Sara had some very serious misgivings about what we are doing in terms of foreign policies, she would bring that to me,” Marcos said.

“Ang pinag-uusapan nga namin, sabi niya, ‘Basta ako trabaho lang ako nang trabaho,’ sabi niyang ganun (Once, she said, ‘As for me, I just keep on working.’) That’s a good policy. So, I don’t think it is something that we need to be concerned with.”

No impact on economic ties

Marcos also expressed confidence that his recently concluded trilateral summit with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would not hurt China’s economic influence in the Philippines.

He said China would continue whatever investments it chooses to make in the Philippines.

“This (trilateral agreement) is separate from any proposed or potential Chinese investments in the Philippines. How do I see it, how will it affect (the country)? I don’t see that it will affect, one way or the other,” Marcos said.

The Philippines forged a stronger trilateral alliance with the US and Japan, to protect the Indo-Pacific Region and amid the growing tensions in the SCS.

Marcos said the trilateral alliance would define the future of the Indo-Pacific under a more robust economic, security and defense structure. (PNA)