Some pro-China senators have suggested to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to appoint his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, as a special envoy to China, to serve as a back channel to improve deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Marcos had met with Duterte in Malacañang weeks after his private trip to Beijing where he held talks with China’s leader Xi Jinping at the State Guest House.

China placed a high value on the former president, inviting him to the State Guest House. Marcos did not stay at the State Guest House when he embarked on a state visit in January this year.

China was trying to send a message to the Philippines by inviting Duterte who was accorded treatment similar to a sitting president.

China considered Duterte a loyal friend. And the former leader continued to profess his love for China and its supreme leader.

Bilateral relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines have been deteriorating since Marcos came to power in July last year.

In April, Manila granted Washington access to four local military bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). These bases face regional potential flashpoints, like the South China Sea and Taiwan.

The United States and the Philippines also agreed to expand joint military drills, not just the number of activities but the frequency as well.

Within the year, there is a possibility that the US Navy and the Philippine Navy will have a joint sail in the disputed area in the South China Sea.

This year, the two armed forces held two live-fire exercises at the sea facing the South China Sea, testing the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), a sophisticated weapon system that the United States had given Ukraine to defend itself from Russia.

The senators, led by Alan Peter Cayetano and Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, have been pushing Marcos to give Duterte a bigger role in the administration’s foreign policy.

They wanted the former president to open communication lines between Beijing and Manila, disrupted by Marcos’ slide to Washington in the last 12 months.

China used to enjoy close relations with the Philippines under Duterte who threw away the landmark legal victory at The Hague like a piece of worthless paper.

He even prevented the military from holding joint exercises in the South China Sea and attempted to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Duterte brought relations with China to its golden age despite opinion polls showing a majority of Filipinos distrusting Beijing.

It did not matter to China’s leader as long as Duterte was in power. They supported Duterte’s political ally, Marcos, in the 2022 elections but were dismayed when the son of the late dictator decided to repair the family’s honor and name, embracing the West at the expense of China.

Rising tensions between Manila and Beijing gave a chance for pro-China senators to suggest giving Duterte a shot at regaining his influence in government.

In January, when Marcos visited Beijing, he worked out a direct line of communications with Xi Jinping to ease tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

But the recent water cannon incident at Ayungin Shoal showed that Marcos’ efforts went to nothing. It also shattered all hopes of resuscitating Duterte’s love affair with China.

Cayetano, Go, and other senators who wanted to push Duterte to become special envoy were silenced by the latest Chinese bullying in the West Philippine Sea.

More senators, including those who have not spoken about the issue, have joined the bandwagon in condemning China’s actions on two Coast Guard vessels escorting two wooden boats hired by the military to deliver food, fuel, water, and other supplies to troops stationed at Ayungin Shoal.

The incident actually exposed what Duterte cannot do even if he has good relations with Xi Jinping.

In all six years he was in office as president, Duterte failed to stop China’s bullying in the West Philippine Sea.

He even failed to bring in Chinese investments. All he got were pledges. Less than 10 percent of the $24 billion in loans and investments promised to him in 2016 materialized.

Worse, China continued to block Filipinos from fishing in traditional fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea as well as explore and exploit energy resources, threatening the country’s food and fuel security.

If Duterte failed when he was in power, what makes Cayetano and Go think the former president can improve relations between China and the Philippines? Can he stop the coercive actions and facilitate Chinese investments in the country’s creaking infrastructure?

Cayetano and Go should give up the idea that Duterte can make miracles and stop China from bullying the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.