Stay 'friendly' with China, Enrile advises Duterte amid sea row

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 18) — President Rodrigo Duterte should stay the course when it comes to his administration's policy on China and response to Beijing's illegal presence in Philippine waters, a veteran lawmaker said on Monday.

Former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile affirmed the government's diplomatic actions towards China, saying the Philippines should remain friendly and avoid offending the powerful country.

"Kaya dapat kailangan na friendly ang approach natin diyan, hindi hard, assertive and aggressive approach. Sapagkat kung hindi tayo magkakaunawaan sa Tsina ay madadamay ang interest ng ating mga kababayan, ang ating ekonomiya, pati na rin ang ating seguridad dito sa usapin na ito," he said when he appeared as a resource person during Duterte's address to the nation.

[Translation: That's why our approach should be friendly, not hard, assertive, or aggressive. If we have a misunderstanding with China, our countrymen, economy, and security will be affected.]

In April, Duterte asserted that the Philippines is avoiding "trouble" with China as the East Asian giant is a "good friend."

Enrile, who was a defense chief under the Marcos regime, told Duterte to ignore his critics regarding the territorial dispute in the contested waters.

"I think you will be able to handle it well in the manner you are doing it now because we'll lose more if we antagonize China. We have no choice except to negotiate with China," he added.

The country has lodged a number of diplomatic protests against China for the continuous presence of its vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

Enrile: UN powerless to enforce arbitral award

Meanwhile, Enrile said the arbitral award which upheld the country’s claim in the West Philippine Sea is not “meaningless," but the United Nations is not powerful enough to ensure it is followed.

“Sa aking paningin, hindi naman nasasayang yung desisyon ng arbitration diyan sa bagay na ‘yan. Palagay ko naka-rehistro yung desisyon na ‘yun sa record ng UN,” said the former Defense chief and senator during the President’s weekly address.

[Translation: For me, the decision of the arbitration is not being wasted. I think that decision is already recorded in the United Nations.]

He added, "Ano pang kailangang resoluyon ng UN para malunasan yang sigalot na ‘yan para sa atin? Palagay ko kahit may resolusyon ang UN, ay hindi naman maipapatupad ng UN yung resolusyon nila. Wala silang police force eh."

[Translation: What resolution does the UN need to resolve this issue for us? Even though there is a resolution, I think the UN cannot enforce that. They don’t even have police force.]

Duterte previously said the country’s arbitral win led to nothing and likened it to a piece of paper that he can throw away in a trash bin.

The arbitral ruling constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea ruled in favor of the Philippines, affirming its sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. The ruling also invalidated China’s “historic rights” in the disputed waters. However, the latter refuses to recognize the said ruling.