BEFORE President Rodrigo Duterte left Thursday for his one-on-one with President Xi Jinping in Beijing, he promised to “invoke” the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that resolved some maritime disputes between the two neighbors.
It has been five days, yet nobody outside the room at the Diaoyutai State Guest House can say with authority if the Philippine leader really “invoked” in a substantive way the ruling (referred to as an “award” in PCA documents) and in what context.
Equally important was the response of Xi, China’s paramount leader whose open-ended term in China’s Communist Party-dominated setup dwarfs Duterte’s three remaining years in office.
Yesterday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who has been Manila media’s main source of information on the matter, elaborated a bit more in a radio interview.
He said Duterte asked Xi in an “apologetic tone”: “I didn’t want to alarm you (Xi) with what I’m about to raise because of your problem in Hong Kong, which is why I’m asking for forgiveness, but I need to say this because I promised my countrymen.”
And Xi reportedly replied: “I understand and I am OK with it.”
Xi really said “I understand… OK” when Duterte “raised” the ruling and begged for forgiveness? Were the two leaders conversing in English or in their native languages, aided by interpreters?
Duterte invoked the arbitral ruling in connection with what issue before them? He raised it out of nowhere or when he saw an opening with the mention of a related topic? (Those questions should have been asked Panelo in the radio interview to get an idea of the context.)
What President Duterte actually said and how he said it are important, at least to some of us observers — considering the context and the nuances involved. These could be key to a future bilateral or judicial question.
In a previous press briefing Panelo said Duterte would no longer raise the PCA award in future meetings. That effectively consigned the arbitral ruling to limbo. It will take another president after him to resurrect the subject. See: https://tinyurl.com/y5xp57cf
What would be the official reference, for instance, if the Philippines under another president wants to raise a question about a statement reportedly made by Xi in his Aug. 29, 2019, dialogue with Duterte? News reports?
If the honest answer would push China to a corner, it would be easy for the Chinese to deny, clarify or explain Xi’s statement as relayed to media, like hearsay, by Panelo.
While Panelo broadcasts his recollection and interpretation of the Duterte-Xi dialogue, there is but the usual silence from Xi’s side – which is good for him and China because their being non-committal in public makes for deniability and flexibility.
So what is the answer to the question: In connection with what substantive issue did Duterte invoke/raise the arbitral ruling?
• How much does Faeldon know?
WHILE Bureau of Corrections Director Nicanor Faeldon is willing to talk, the senators grilling him may want to ask if it is true he has signed a “living testimony” on what he knows as former Customs commissioner about big-time smuggling under the Duterte administration.
That may be a little off-topic, but it is related to his credibility as he testifies at the Senate hearing on the intended release of thousands of convicts under RA 10592 or the GCTA law extending good conduct time allowance to qualified prisoners.
On Twitter, for instance, an R.D. “ToB” Medrano @Istrayber posted: “Mukhang mabigat ang barahang hawak ni Faeldon laban kay Digongsky, ah! Putcha kahit anong kapalpakan ang gawin niya sa gobyerno, tahimik lang si Katay Digong.”
To which, henry @321kick replied: “Gumawa ng ‘Living testimony’ si Faeldon at binigyan ng copy si Du30. Nakalagay doon na si Du30 ay may kinalaman sa smuggling ng Davao connection sa hundreds of containers w/o paying tax. At worst, smuggling of illegal drugs. Pag may nangyari, bibigay sa Press ang Living testimony”.
Neither of the tweeters offered proof of what they wrote. That should even prod senators to ask Faeldon the truth or falsity of the reported testimony — and thereby clear the air.
Faeldon was previously detained at the Senate for six months for his refusal to answer questions of the Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon regarding smuggling and corruption at customs which he then headed.
A storm of protest was whipped up days ago by reports of the possible release of former Calauan, Laguna, Mayor Antonio Sanchez, a convicted rapist and murderer, and the impending release of thousands of inmates under the GCTA law.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson revealed last week that several Chinese drug lords have been freed under the same law. Faeldon’s appearance will give the senator a chance to confirm or correct this report.
There have been reports also that Faeldon himself had signed the order releasing Sanchez as GCTA beneficiary, but he has denied it. The Senate can now ask him under oath.