MANILA, May 18 (Mabuhay) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said he has decided to ignore those criticizing his foreign policy on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) upon the advice of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

In a special meeting with Enrile and some members of his Cabinet, Duterte said he was convinced that he would rather not “waste his time” explaining his decision to navigate the maritime row “peacefully” to avoid trouble with China.

“Maybe I will just ignore my critics. I would just say well, after talking to Senator Enrile, you guys have become irrelevant to me,” Duterte said in a pre-recorded meeting.

Enrile agreed with Duterte, adding that the President is not responsible to any specific person for his foreign policy.

“Mr. President, critics you’ll always have. If I were you, I’ll not mind them. Just mind history, the Filipino people,” Enrile said.

Duterte said Enrile’s suggestions were “the best advice” he received that night.

“To me you’re the only one that matters. So if you say that I do not waste my time with them, so I will not waste my time with them,” he told Enrile.

He also expressed gratitude upon knowing that Enrile agreed with his stance on issues concerning the WPS.

“It is not to our advantage as the senator has said that we go out and quarrel with China…The senator is one with me. One of the best minds sa ating (in our) generation has agreed with me,” he added.

Prior to Duterte’s declaration to ignore critics, Enrile told him that he would have also pursued the same approach to China’s continued aggression in the disputed waters if he were in the President’s shoes.

 “I think history would judge you very well. If I were in your place, I would have done the same thing,” Enrile told Duterte.

Instead of making a foe of China, Enrile said it is better for the Philippines to “befriend” China without surrendering its sovereign rights.

“Kaya, Mr. President, I congratulate you for your effort to see to it that the country will survive in these critical times. Hindi dapat gamitin ang mainit na kaisipan na kagaya ng mga kritiko natin. Dapat balance lang approach natin at mahinahon (Hotheads like our critics should not be used. We must just balance our approach and be calm),” Enrile said.

No police force

Despite the Philippines’ win against China in a 2016 ruling over the South China Sea, Enrile noted that the ruling cannot be implemented.

“Kahit may resolution ang UN, di naman mapapatupad ng UN ang resolusyon nila, wala silang police force (Even if there is a UN resolution, the UN cannot implement its resolution, they don’t have police force),” Enrile said.

Duterte concurred with Enrile, saying the Philippines could not do anything about the ruling because “we are not on the side of might.”

For now, he said talking with China is the best approach to dealing with the sea dispute.

Enrile also noted that the Philippines’ arbitral victory could not be enforced without a strong air force or navy.

“Tama ang posture niyo na kausapin ang China. Huwag gagamitin ang emosyon at init ng ulo (Your posture to talk with China is right. Don’t be carried away by emotions or temper),” he said.

Why Trillanes?

Meanwhile, Enrile raised questions anew on the reason why Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was selected by President Benigno Aquino III to hold backdoor negotiations with Chinese officials on the sea dispute.

“The mystery, Mr. President for me, is why Trillanes? Why was Trillanes selected as a negotiator for Aquino?,” he said.

He suggested asking Trilanes to explain to the nation how he got that influence to reach out to the officials of China.

Duterte agreed, saying former Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady may be able to shed light on the issue about Trillanes.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte discusses matters with former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile regarding the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea prior to his talk to the people at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on May 17, 2021. (Presidential photo by Alberto Alcain)

He again blamed the past administration for withdrawing Philippine vessels from Scarborough Shoal to ease the standoff upon alleged advice of the US in 2012. Manila pulled out its ships but China stayed and eventually took possession of the territory.

Enrile agreed that the Philippines was placed at a disadvantage by retreating.

MDT review

Enrile also floated the possibility of discussing with the US plans to amend the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the US and the Philippines, noting that the pact failed to counter China’s aggression in the WPS.

“Kung may mangyari sa West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines, hindi natin magagamit yung Mutual Defense Treaty (If something happens in the West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines, we cannot use the Mutual Defense Treaty),” he said, noting that the US would simply assure that they would come to the Philippines’ rescue only to be disappointed.

Citing his experience as Defense Minister during the administration of former President Ferdinand Marcos, Enrile said the US has failed to provide firearms to the Philippines.

“Sa karanasan ko bilang Secretary of National Defense nung panahon ni Presidente Marcos, di natin maasahan ang America sa ganitong usapin (From my experience as Secretary of National Defense during the term of President Marcos, we cannot expect anything from the US when it comes to matters like this),” he said.

Duterte has received flak, particularly from members of the opposition, for his alleged soft stance in enforcing the Philippines’ arbitral win against China.

However, he vowed that the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the WPS would not be compromised, even if China is the country’s “good friend”. (MNS)

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