"Mr. Enrile did what was expected of him."
The President’s decision to trot out former Senate president and former defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile on national TV was clearly aimed at shoring up an increasingly unpopular administration policy to appease Beijing in the face of continuing Chinese intrusions into our waters.
By all accounts, the 97-year-old veteran of Philippine politics did what was expected of him. He supported the President’s policy of befriending China, threw shade on his critics, and advised Mr. Duterte to simply ignore those who disagreed with him.
But even if the right things by the President’s reckoning were said, the sight of one 76-year-old man seeking advice from an even older man, 21 years his senior, hardly inspired confidence.
While it is true that Mr. Enrile has had the benefit of decades of experience in government, those years do not automatically translate to wisdom or even truth. This was the man, after all, who admitted in a press conference during the People Power revolution in 1986 that the alleged assassination attempt against him 14 years earlier that was used as a pretext for martial law was staged. Enrile later retracted his account of the staged ambush in 2012 in his memoir and in a documentary released that same year. If Mr. Enrile were a witness in a trial, lawyers cross-examining him would conclude that he was a liar because he either lied in 1986 or he lied in 2012. In either case, why would we give credence to anything he said? What is the value in the testimony of a proven liar?
In an interview with former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in 2018, Mr. Enrile claimed with a straight face that no one was arrested during martial law “simply because he criticized Marcos.” But he later played down the imprisonment of Marcos’s critics, saying the detainees were merely “inconvenienced for a while, but all were released.” His claims were quickly disputed by those who had survived detention during martial law.
At one point, in a clear case of preaching to the choir, Mr. Enrile “advised” the President: “Instead of making China a foe, or irritate China, why don’t we befriend China without surrendering our rights? We befriend China because we are orientals, we understand each other.”
Unfortunately for the administration, the statement recalls how Imperial Japan used race as a geopolitical argument in Asian countries that its troops overran and subjugated in World War II under the guise of the “Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”
In the end, resurfacing Mr. Enrile did little to convince those who are outraged by China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea, that the “friendly” approach works. The only way that will happen is if China suddenly decided to respect the 2016 arbitral award by a UN tribunal that recognized the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea. The likelihood of that happening is as good as a snowball’s chance in hell, no matter how friendly Mr. Duterte is with the Chinese, or how many times Mr. Enrile profers his “wisdom.”