MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has directed his Cabinet that discussions on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dispute with China would be done internally and that a single person would be tasked to speak about it.
Duterte said during his Monday pre-recorded briefing that discussions would be presented to the government mouthpiece, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
“So this is my order now to the Cabinet and to all […] ‘yong ano, talking for the government, to refrain from discussing itong West Philippine Sea with anybody,” Duterte said.
“If we have to talk, we talk, and tayo-tayo lang (we do it ourselves), and there is one spokesman, si Secretary Harry (Roque) would do it.
Now you get the picture,” he added.
The President arrived at the decision as he consulted former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile on the issue, who then advised him not to entertain critics as he would only be answerable to the Filipino people.
Enrile was present during Duterte’s briefing, providing inputs on the discussion over disputed territory on the West Philippine Sea.
According to the nonagenarian who has served as defense minister for late dictator and former president Ferdinand Marcos, it’s best not to mind critics like former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario.
“After all Mr. President you are only responsible to the Filipino people.
And you are not responsible to any specific person for your foreign policy.
Yours is to protect the interest of the nation and its people in the best way you can,” Enrile said.
“‘Wag mo nang sagutin Mr. President, they will enjoy that, if they are being answered by a President,” he noted.
In response, Duterte said that he would just ignore his critics.
“Well, maybe I will just ignore my critics,” Duterte said, which Enrile lauded.
“I will just say that after talking to Senator Enrile, you guys have become irrelevant.”
“To me you’re the only one that matters, so if you say that I do not waste my time with them, I will not waste my time to them,” he added.
Duterte invited Enrile to discuss the West Philippine Sea issue, especially on events that are related to the 2012 Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal standoff which ended in the United States intervening between China and the Philippines.
However, after the talks, it was only the Philippines which withdrew.
This has led to the filing of complaints before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which released a decision in 2016 saying that the Philippines has exclusive rights over the West Philippine Sea, and that China’s nine-dash line territorial claim has no legal and historical basis.
READ: READ: PH wins arbitration case over South China Sea
Duterte’s critics including Carpio and del Rosario have urged him to bring the PCA decision before the United Nations (UN), but the Chief Executive declined as he believes it would only lead to military conflict with China.
Earlier, Enrile said that there is no need to bring the Philippines’ arbitral tribunal victory to UN because the international body is very much aware of it.
The Chinese intrusion within the West Philippine Sea has been a hot topic recently after the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported the presence of over 200 boats last March — including Chinese maritime militia ships — near the Julian Felipe Reef.
The reef is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.