Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile shares his narrative with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte regarding the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea prior to the President’s talk to the people at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on May 17, 2021. ALBERTO ALCAIN/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to ignore his critics and come up with ways to make China an ally of the Philippines without sacrificing its rights, amid the dispute over the West Philippine Sea.

Enrile was invited to Malacañang at the president’s request to talk about his insights on West Philippine Sea issues.

“Realistically, we cannot ignore China. We have to deal with China. 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,” Enrile said.

The 97-year-old Enrile said Duterte was better off ignoring his critics because “you are not responsible to any specific person for your foreign policy.”

He added that the more the Philippines “antagonizes” China, the more it would lose.

Duterte agreed, saying the Philippines would be at the losing end in case its dispute with China on the West Philippine Sea exploded into warfare.

In explaining his stance, Duterte said the Philippines had “might” to assert against China.

“So we have to talk, just talk and talk until such time, by the grace of God, if there
is an opportune time for all of these things to correct itself maybe,” he added.

Duterte claimed the withdrawal of Philippine ships from Panatag Shoal in 2012 caused the country’s arbitral victory over China’s territorial claims to go to waste.

His timeline is wrong, however, as the arbitration case was filed after the Panatag Shoal incident. The Philippines won the case in July 2016 after Duterte assumed power. The arbitral tribunal invalidated China’s historical claim to the contested waters.

“The beginning of this problem was when we retreated. And since then, iyong mga paperwork about the arbitral award has become meaningless and the opposite camp of the political side ay nasabi that I should do my very best in asking the UN,” Dutertr said.

The Philippines has filed diplomatic protests against the presence of Chinese ships in the disputed waters, but a maritime patrol on May 9 found 287 Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea. John Ezekiel J. Hirro