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Gibo warns of China trap over Sierra Madre deal

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos are getting “sidetracked” by the debates over the so-called gentleman’s agreement with China on the West Philippine Sea, and are falling into a trap set by China to divert attention from its depredation in Philippine waters, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said yesterday.

“Let us not fall into the trap set by Chinese propaganda of refocusing the debate on a so-called promise while deflecting attention away from China’s government, thereby freeing and allowing them to continue with their illegal activities in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” Teodoro said in an open letter to “our fellow Filipinos.”

China had accused the Philippine government of reneging on its supposed promise to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in accordance with the “gentleman’s agreement” between the two governments.

Former presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier admitted it was former president Rodrigo Duterte who made an unwritten pact with China to keep the status quo on the maritime dispute and disallow any repair on the deteriorating Sierra Madre. Deliberately beached in the shoal in 1997 during the Estrada administration to serve as a military outpost, the Sierra Madre now badly needs repairs. Roque warned the Philippines might end up losing Ayungin Shoal if it insists on having the rusty ship refurbished. Told of the “gentleman’s agreement,” President Marcos said he had it rescinded.

“While we realize that accountability is important in the issue on whether or not a so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was forged with China regarding the BRP Sierra Madre and Ayungin Shoal, we Filipinos must not lose sight of the fact that the main threat to our rights in the WPS is the Chinese government’s illegal activities,” Teodoro stressed.

The last two rotation and resupply missions sent to Ayungin Shoal drew the most violent response so far from the China Coast Guard, which blasted the Philippine boats with water cannons to prevent them from reaching the Sierra Madre. Reacting to protests Beijing claimed its coast guard had to block the Filipino vessels because they were carrying construction materials.

Although in decrepit