Enrile, 97, Reemerges for Talk With Duterte on West Philippine Sea

'Talk to the People' has a special guest.
Photo/s: Presidential Photo

(UPDATE) One of the Philippines' most enduring politicians, 97-year-old Juan Ponce Enrile, emerged from retirement on Monday to join President Rodrigo Duterte's weekly address to the nation.

Duterte, 76, had invited Enrile to share his insights on the West Philippine Sea disputes with China. Enrile was Senate president when Manila and Beijing figured in a standoff at Scarborough Shoal and the incumbent had said that he inherited the situation from his predecessor, former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

According to the veteran politician, China's moves in the disputed waters to is dictated by how it sees itself in the world, Enrile said. Roughly 80% of its trade passes through it.

He said the approach when it comes to the maritime dispute should be "friendly" and not "aggressive."

"Kung hindi tayo magkakaunawaan sa Tsina, madadamay ang interes ng ating mga kababayan, ang ating ekonomiya pati na rin ang ating seguridad dito sa usapin na ito," he added.

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Enrile said the country should also beef up its economy and military strength like China does.

Duterte is facing criticism for his handling of the country's maritime dispute with China as Beijing's ships continue to linger within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone despite Manila's repeated protests.

"You were elected by the Filipino people to be the leader of this country. Nobody else can frame the foreign policy of the country except the President of this country. That is true to us and true to other countries," he said.

"Not even the Supreme Court can interfere with your foreign policy. That is the highest political act of the President," he added.

Enrile said he would provide his services to Duterte on the West Philippine Sea for free, "gratis et amore."

'Why Trillanes?'

Enrile questioned the role of former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in the backchannel negotiations between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal in 2012. Trillanes served as special envoy to China during the Aquino administration.

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Trillanes got in and out of China without going through immigration and bypassing then Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady, Enrile said. Trillanes told him that his trips to China were upon orders of Aquino.

"Siguro kailangan natin saan ba nanggaling yung koneksyon ni Trillanes sa Beijing. Paano siya nagkaroon ng koneksyon doon?" Enrile asked.

Enrile then said the U.S. mediated between Philippines and China, which Beijing ignored.

"Kung ang Amerika ang naging mediator, sino ang humingi ng tulong ng Amerika? Pangalawa, bakit noong hindi tinupad ng Tsina ang kasunduan na umatras din siya, bakit hindi man lang pinagsabihan ng Amerika ang Tsina na tuparin niya ang kasunduan?" he said.

"Ang impresyon kumbaga ay parang ginamit lang tayo doon sa bagay na yun, aniumang interes ang nauukol para sa Amerika ay hindi ko alam. Pero ganun ang impresyon ko," he added.

Responding to Enrile, Trillanes in a tweet said Aquino appointed him as backchannel negotiator because "he (Aquino) found me trustworthy unlike Enrile."

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"Wag niyo ibahin ang usapan, wala sa Scarborough ang problema. Nalutas na ni PNoy yun. Wala nang mga barko ng China sa loob nun. Wala ring reclamation dun. Nasa Spratlys ngayon ang problema na ayaw harapin ni Duterte," he added.

Enrile retired from politics after losing in the 2019 senatorial vote. He has held numerous positions in government under Noynoy Aquino, former Presidents Gloria Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, Fidel Ramos, Cory Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos, where he was at the height of power. 

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Under Marcos, Enrile served as Martial Law administrator and defense secretary.

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