Be diplomatic and friendly to China. Do not depend on the United States of America. And mind not your critics.
These were the three key pieces of advice given by former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to President Rodrigo Duterte during the latter's address to the public Monday night—all of which the commander-in-chief agreed to adopt.
"Our approach toward China should be friendly, not hard, assertive nor aggressive," said Enrile, who was invited by Duterte as "one of the best minds of our generation" to share his thoughts on the West Philippine Sea issue.
"If we are in conflict with China, the interest of our people will be on the line. Our economy and security will also be affected," he added.
Enrile also cautioned against depending on the US for protection in asserting the country's sovereign rights.
"We cannot depend on our ally even if they are the strongest force on the planet. They have their own problems and interests," the former Defense chief said.
"We have to strengthen our own economy and our military," he added.
Duterte agreed on Enrile's twin advice on foreign affairs, adding that he wanted nothing but friendship from China.
The President also shared his reason for not accepting then US President Donald Trump's invitation for him to visit America.
"You are only using us as your detachment. You‘re making the Philippines a sort of an early warning device detachment," the President said.
Enrile, however, defended the UN arbitral ruling that invalidated China's massive nine-dash-line claim over the entire South China Sea after Duterte belittled it as a mere scrap of paper that deserved to be thrown in the wastebasket.
While agreeing with the President that the arbitral ruling was difficult to enforce, Enrile said it was not a wasted decision.
"That decision has been registered with the UN record. Our right emanates from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was crafted by the United Nations," the former senator added.
As for internal affairs, Enrile advised the President not to stoop down to the level of his critics.
"In the first place, you were elected by the Filipino people to be the leader of this country. Nobody else can frame the foreign policy of the country except the President of this country. That is true to us and true to other countries. Not even the Supreme Court can interfere with your foreign policy. That’s the highest political act of a president," Enrile said.
"No one else can frame or formulate the foreign policy of the Philippines except President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Not (former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio) Carpio, not (former Foreign Affairs Secretary) Albert Del Rosario or Juan Ponce Enrile. There is only one person -- that’s the President of the Philippines," he added.
The President, who at one point challenged Carpio to a debate but eventually backed out upon the advice of his Cabinet, said his critics "have become irrelevant" after talking to Enrile.
Earlier in the day, the Palace acknowledged that Duterte may have made some inaccurate statements about the West Philippine Sea, but said he has “always been consistent” in invoking the country’s sovereignty over the area.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the statement after Carpio initiated an online signature petition urging Duterte to retract his alleged “damaging” statements related to the West Philippine Sea.
When Duterte claimed China was in possession of the West Philippine Sea, Roque said the President was actually referring to Scarborough Shoal, which was seized by Chinese forces in 2012 after the Aquino administration pulled out the country’s ships from the area.
The Palace official also defended the President when the latter said the arbitral award was just a piece of paper, saying Duterte was referring to the lack of a mechanism to enforce the court victory.
“Let’s put it in context and perhaps in the President’s language, he may not be as accurate but his statements have been consistent,” Roque said in a press briefing.
Carpio earlier demanded the President retract his statements.
“These statements are contrary to the Constitution, waive our sovereign rights under the Arbitral Award and even concede to China possession of the West Philippine Sea when in fact China is not physically and legally in possession of the West Philippine Sea,” the petition read.
Law professor Howard Calleja said the 2016 arbitral award is binding, and that China is a signatory to the UNCLOS, which allows arbitration as a dispute settlement mechanism.
China has no choice but to abide by the ruling, he added.
“It is up to the Philippines to enforce it and solicit the help and assistance not only of our friends but the entire international community,” Calleja said.
Law professor Antonio Ligon said the decision of the arbitral tribunal has been recognized worldwide—except for China. With Vito Barcelo
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