Philippines’ Marcos denies ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Beijing over South China Sea

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. says he is “horrified” by the idea that his predecessor compromised Philippine sovereignty.
Jason Gutierrez
Philippines’ Marcos denies ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Beijing over South China Sea Filipino Marines raise the Philippine flag on the first day of their deployment on the dilapidated navy ship BRP Sierra Madre at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, in the South China Sea, March 30, 2014.
Bullit Marquez/AP file photo

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday denied the existence of a “gentleman’s agreement” between his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, and China that Manila would not make repairs to a rusting military outpost in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

Duterte’s former spokesman, Harry Roque, has said that the previous Philippine government entered into a deal with Beijing to keep the “status quo” in the waterway, which has become the scene of increasingly tense confrontations between the two nations.

As part of the deal, Duterte allegedly agreed that the Philippines would not send construction materials to repair the BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated World War II-era naval ship that was deliberately run aground on Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) in 1999.

“We don’t know anything about it,” Marcos told reporters before leaving for talks in Washington with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. “There is no documentation, no record. We were not briefed [about it] when I came into office, no one told us that there was that agreement.”

Marcos said his staff was demanding information from ex-officials in the Duterte administration, but “we still haven’t got a straight answer.”

“I am horrified by the idea that we have compromised through a secret agreement, the territory, sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Philippines,” Marcos said.

Since taking office in June 2022, Marcos has reversed Duterte’s pro-China policies, realigning with the United States and granting American troops greater access to Philippine bases. 

Duterte has not directly commented on the supposed deal, but the Chinese embassy in Manila alluded to it on a number of occasions after Chinese vessels were accused of harassing Filipino supply boats heading to the Sierra Madre. 

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, while disregarding overlapping claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Manila “has been going back on its words and provoking China” over Second Thomas Shoal, without directly mentioning any agreement.

Roque did not immediately reply to requests for comment from BenarNews, but he has been quoted widely in local media saying he stands by his earlier statement.

“The gentleman’s agreement is to respect the status quo on the entire West Philippine Sea dispute,” he said, referring to the portion of the South China Sea within Manila’s exclusive economic zone.

As Marcos left on Wednesday afternoon for Washington, the Philippine military reported that some 48 Chinese vessels – mostly from its maritime militia – were being monitored near another disputed outcrop, Scarborough Shoal, and three Philippine-occupied features in the South China Sea.


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