President Rodrigo Duterte is considering meeting with former presidents to discuss the situation in the West Philippine Sea, the Palace said Thursday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said instead of convening the National Security Council (NSC), he wants former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III to discuss the situation and come out with a united stand.
“Actually, the President mentioned that to me. The problem with the National Security Council is that nothing is resolved during the times he attended,” Roque said.
If the meeting pushes through, this would not be the first time President Duterte met with his predecessors. In July 2016, met with the former presidents in Malacañang.
Earlier, former senator Rodolfo Biazon lamented the Philippines’ “confusing” stand on the West Philippine Sea as he called for the convening of the NSC.
Roque, however, said there was nothing confusing about the President’s stand.
“Right now, there is no confusion. The confusion is because the West Philippine Sea issue is being politicized by critics of the administration,” he said.
He claimed no territory has been lost under President Duterte.
“We will never give away our territory and we will stand by our national sovereignty and our sovereign rights,,”he added.
Senator Grace Poe on Thursday said it is high time that the whole of government comes up with a clear and united stand on the West Philippine Sea.
She said convening the NSC would be a timely intervention.
"We cannot be divided as a nation when we talk about our sovereignty.
Protecting territorial integrity is so vital to a country's survival that we must not confuse it with friendship or utang na loob," Poe said.
"This is the country's resources we are talking about. There shouldn't be any debate as to whether we should protect it or not," she added.
She said there is only one constitutional answer—we should. "The only thing left for us to discuss now is how."
Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio said former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile contradicted himself when he saidat a meeting this week with President Duterte that the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) did not include the South China Sea.
Carpio recalled that Enrile in 1992 said that former US secretary of state Cyrus Vance Jr.' s memo in 1979 meant that the MDT may be applied to the South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea.
Enrile, who served as defense minister during the administration of the President Ferdinand Marcos, backed Duterte's policy of rapprochement towards Beijing despite China’s occupation of several features inside the Philippines’s 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone.
During the briefing, Enrile said the US failed to compel China to follow the agreement it brokered in 2012 to defuse the tension in the Scarborough Shoal where a Philippine Navy vessel and several Chinese ships were in a standoff.
Thus, when the Philippine forces left, the Chinese remained to take control of the area.
Enrile in the same briefing said that the MDT would not be triggered by a conflict in the South China Sea.
During his meeting with President Duterte, Enrile said he was right to be diplomatic and friendly with China and not to depend on the United States. He also urged the President to ignore his critics.
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" to him after he spoke to Enrile.