"Need we wonder why he advised Duterte to mind not the critics and focus on the country’s best interests?"
Be diplomatic and friendly to China. Do not depend on the United States of America. Mind not your critics.
Coming from a wise and wizened man, it was not a surprise that President Duiterte easily accepted these words of advice on how to handle the country’s spat with China on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or more commonly known internationally as the South China Sea (SCS).
That advice from former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) carries the weight of years of experience and loads of studies not only on the WPS/SCS issue but the overall impact of such disputes on the country’s national security and our relations with the rest of the world. Having served exceedingly well in various government institutions for more than five decades, not the least with the distinction of being the country’s longest-serving Secretary of National Defense, JPE knows whereof he speaks. He belongs to that select group of people whose knowledge of matters of state be these the law, national security, foreign policy and related concerns is probably beyond equal.
His world view and his grasp of statecraft compares well with those of known international statesmen like former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to name just two of the more recognizable ones.
If we are after sealing a deal with China and the other claimant countries in the WPS/SCS to keep the peace, ensure stability and implement mutually beneficial arrangements to harness whatever resources which can be shared with them in the disputed area, we will be better served heeding his advice.
“...Our approach toward China,” JPE intoned, “should be friendly, not hard, assertive, not aggressive...” - a stance which President Duterte embraced from day one when he advised that from then on the country will be “ a friend to all, enemy towards none.”
In announcing that pivot from a US centric foreign policy, Duterte came under fire from the usual; suspects claiming that he was unduly risking the country’s security and abandoning our decades-old alliance with the US and its network of friends in and around the world. By extending a friendly hand to our neighbors, especially China, he was accused of opening the doors to a “creeping invasion” by that emerging hegemon.
He forged ahead anyway, taking full measure of the possible consequences of such a bold action. Well, we are now at this stage where the benefits of such a friendly gesture has been shown to outweigh the risks. Whether the critics accept it or not, Chinese investments have poured in, trade flows have been increasing, exchanges among our people have been on the rise and grants and Chinese assistance for disaster relief and other social concerns have been continuing. Even our enhanced ability to confront the Covid 19 pandemic has been supported to a considerable degree by our friendly relations with China.
The one and only fly-in-the-ointment which comes every so often has been the release of “new satellite images” of Chinese boats pouring into the disputed seas as if in an invasion mode. So the country gets subjected to another round of Sinophobic stunts from the usual quarters who refuse to accept the fact that enforcement of our rights and claims not any other is the issue.
Asked what else needs to be done aside from all the things which have been undertaken by the administration to establish our rights and presence in the disputed areas, former DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario could only mumble the need to “come out with a comprehensive strategy to deter China’s aggressive actions.” What and how are we to undertake this remains unanswered even by them. Even their calls for us to call on the United States to activate the MDT had fallen on deaf ears. No official US commitment, not to mention action save for the sail-by of the US carriers, has been forthcoming.
So, given these developments, should we be surprised that JPE cautioned the Chief Executive “not to depend on the US as they have their own problems and interests.”
Even more pointedly, need we wonder why he advised Duterte to mind not the critics and focus on the country’s best interests?