The problem with Duterte’s ‘What I remember...’ | Inquirer Opinion
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The problem with Duterte’s ‘What I remember…’

He should have written it down on a table napkin and shoved it into his pocket or undershirt. But former president Rodrigo Duterte, perhaps awed by China’s lavish reception accorded him, did not. So he does not have a written record of the “gentleman’s agreement” between him and China’s President Xi Jinping as regards the Philippines’ decrepit BRP Sierra Madre, the military outpost in the Philippines’ territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea, the vintage World War II ship that is a sore in the eyes of Xi. Neither do Duterte’s subalterns, the hangers-on who were with him during one of his trips to China toward which Duterte had openly declared he had pivoted (that is, away from the United States of America) and which surely made Xi’s eyes moisten with delight.

And how did they seal it while in the shadows? With a handshake, a high five, a fist pump? His successor, President Marcos asked point-blank: “What did you compromise?” Why is the Philippines not allowed to repair the BRP Sierra Madre? Why is China angry that we are not sticking to the deal? Hey, what deal?

Called upon recently to disclose what transpired in his tête-à-tête with Xi, Duterte could only begin his statements with “What I remember … what I remember is that …” Either he does not want to disclose the whole truth of it or he is feigning forgetfulness. Does this mean that the fate of the Philippines’ territorial waters are now consigned to the depths of his 79-year-old memory? Did Xi swear him to secrecy?

Anyone worried about the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) where Filipino fishermen and Philippine vessels do a patintero (a Filipino tagging game) with China’s formidable armada and worse, are being water-cannoned, harassed, and stalked when supplies are being brought to Filipino soldiers stationed in BRP Sierra Madre, should now worry all the more. China’s message: The area is ours. It does not respect the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration favoring the Philippines’ claims and rejecting China’s expansive claims on the South China Sea as having no basis in international law.


If indeed Duterte had made a secret agreement with Xi and Filipinos ended up blindsided, then Sen. Risa Hontiveros had basis in calling the act “treasonous,” treason being the crime of betraying one’s country or aiding the enemy while at war. Well, isn’t China the so-called enemy at the gates? For now, traitorous or treacherous might be more apt.

I have watched enough TV crime and court dramas where the memories of witnesses—victims and accused—are being challenged to the last bit that they can recall, where defense lawyers and prosecutors make sure memories, no matter how foggy, jibe with the hard evidence and other witness accounts besides. What we now have is a former president whose memory needs rebooting while everyone and his uncle in his circle are just as lost in the fog, if not also feigning forgetfulness. Or might Duterte’s spiritual adviser, the fugitive “appointed son of God” Apollo C. Quiboloy who is facing criminal cases here and in the US, be privy to it all?

If I may digress, years ago, I dug up an old notebook with interview notes on it—with my heart beating fast—to find out if someone I had interviewed had said something, perhaps in passing, which might hold a clue to a crime committed around that time. Yes, I do keep yesteryears’ interview notebooks and pocket-size planners that tell about my past whereabouts. Would-be journos must know that while digital technology is a boon in news gathering, pen and paper with one’s own handwriting (cum asterisks, stars, underscores, exclamation points, cuss words and all) are added aids to memory and the solitary act of writing. As in, I was there.

So in the absence even of scribbles on a table napkin, there is nothing to hold up for scrutiny. In the language of live, yes live, online selling (a rabbit hole I discovered belatedly), na joy-joy tayo.


No written agreement, even in its barest form, means nothing is binding. Was it all laway after all? But why must we be falling all over ourselves to find out what it was? In Filipino, nagkakandarapa, in onomatopoeic Ilonggo, nagakinarankaran. Perhaps there was nothing at all.

During this dry season when the air is hot and life-threatening, lines from Air Supply’s song “Out of Nothing at All” come to mind: “I know just where to find the answers, And I know just how to lie, I know just how to fake it, And I know just how to scheme, I know just when to face the truth, And then I know just when to dream … Out of nothing at all, out of nothing at all, out of nothing at all.”



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TAGS: China, opinion, Rodrigo Duterte

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