(PN file photo)

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año denied Thursday that a “gentleman’s agreement” had been struck between the Philippines and China on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) under the watch of former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Año, a former chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the Duterte administration, said there is no proof of the Philippines’ alleged deal with China to keep the status quo in the WPS.

“The Chinese have always talked about the gentleman’s agreement pero (but) they cannot show anything na mayroon talaga (there really is), even a document, or even identify somebody who said that we particularly entered into that gentleman’s agreement,” he said in an interview with Palace reporters.

Año issued the statement, after former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque claimed that Duterte reportedly had a verbal agreement with China not to construct and repair Philippine facilities in the WPS, including the sending of construction materials for BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57).

Roque said the agreement does not cover the towing or removal of the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

Año reiterated Marcos’ stance that the Philippines would not yield its territory, including its maritime domain, to foreign power.

“For the meantime, we will fight for our rights, we will make sure that we are protecting our territorial integrity and ensuring our sovereign rights within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” he said.

Amid China’s aggression in the WPS, Marcos on March 25, 2024 issued Executive Order (EO) 57 creating the National Maritime Council (NMC) to strengthen the Philippines’ maritime security and increase maritime domain awareness among Filipinos.

EO 57 was issued amid a “range of serious challenges that threaten not only the country’s territorial integrity, but also the peaceful existence of Filipinos.”

Año said Marcos, during his upcoming visit to Washington this month, will also discuss with United States (US) President Joe Biden the recent developments in the South China Sea (SCS).

He said the SCS issue is among the topics that would be raised during Marcos’ bilateral meeting with Biden in the US on April 11.

He added that the US government has assured the Marcos administration of its commitment to “help and support [the Philippines],” in case the tensions in the disputed waters further escalate.

Año said the US is also open to reactivating the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines.

The MDT, an accord signed by the US and the Philippines on Aug. 30, 1951, stipulates the two countries would support each other, in the event that either one of them is attacked by an external party.

Marcos will be in the US to hold the first trilateral summit with Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on April 11 to discuss a broad range of topics, including economic and security cooperation. (PNA)