President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s balanced approach in dealing with China amid the years-long dispute over contested territories in the West Philippine Sea has helped the country survive difficult periods, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said on Monday.
“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 balanced lang approach natin at mahinahon,” Enrile told President Duterte in a meeting about the West Philippine Sea issue.
The former Senate president, who was a guest during the President’s Talk to People aired Monday night, said the West Philippine Sea is being coveted by different claimants because of its strategic importance economically and militarily.
Enrile, who also served as the country’s defense minister in the 70s, said 7 billion barrels of oil and 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were proven to lie underneath the West Philippine Sea, making it a treasure cove of rich natural resources.
Being one of the leading countries in energy exploration, he explained that by maintaining friendly relations with China, Philippines could strike a good deal to tap its energy resources. Otherwise, Philippines would need to borrow money from foreign banks to fund energy exploration, he pointed out.
“We’ll lose more if we antagonize China. We have no choice except to negotiate with China,” said Enrile. “Maybe we can get better by talking with China instead of being aggressive.”
At the same time, Enrile said that the President, being elected by the Filipino people, has the sole duty to frame the country’s foreign policy, and this is true to true to other nations.
It is the highest political act of a president, and the former lawmaker wondered why people keep talking without understanding this system.
“Only history will judge you. And I think that history will judge you very well. If I were in your place, I would have — I would have done the same thing. What else can a President of this country do under our present national circumstance?” he told the President.
For his part, President Duterte said he did his best in pushing the country’s best interests with regard to foreign policy. As a result, he said, Philippines secured its first tranche of coronavirus vaccine from China through donation.
Noting the country’s efforts being met with harsh criticism from the opposition, the chief executive said the best way to move forward is to downplay administration critics and for him to just continue fulfilling his mandates as president.
“Well, maybe I will just ignore my critics so to not derail me from my official duties. And I will just say that well, after talking to Senator Enrile, I — you guys have become irrelevant to me,” he said. PND