By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte is wise enough to turn enemies into friends to gain mutual benefits, Malacanang said amid government’s attempts to manage the country’s maritime conflict with China.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo came to the President’s defense in the wake of criticisms on the manner by which he is handling of the territorial dispute with China, including the recent Recto Bank incident.
“He is making his enemies friends so that both sides will mutually gain benefit from whatever they have,” he said in an interview with reporters at the Palace Friday.
He said the President, who has chosen dialogue to enhance ties with China rather than wage war over the West Philippine Sea dispute, has already declared the country is “friends to all, enemies to none.”
“But even enemies, we can be friends if that will be to our advantage,” he added.
A Chinese vessel recently hit a Filipino fishing boat and abandoned the 22 fishermen stranded at sea, prompting Manila to file a diplomatic protest. President Duterte later described the incident as a little maritime accident, saying there was no need to send Navy ships and declare war over it.
Amid criticisms on the presence of the Chinese ship in Recto Bank, Duterte also declared that China cannot be stopped or driven away from fishing in the country’s territorial waters. He added there was no need to give permission or disallow China since it believes it owns almost all of the South China Sea.
The President’s critics, however, claimed that allowing China to fish in the country’s exclusive economic zone was a breach of the Constitution and an impeachable offense. They have pressed Duterte to defend the country’s territory from China’s aggression.
Panelo, however, fired back at the President’s detractors for their “aggressive isolationist policy,” insisting the country is not yet in crisis level.
“Unang-una, iyon ay ginagawa mo lang iyon kung mayroong crisis. Wala naman tayong crisis, eh [First, you’re making it appear we have a crisis. We have no crisis],” he said, following the call of Senator Richard Gordon for the President to convene the National Security Council to discuss the Recto Bank incident.
“Ang gusto nga nila, magkaroon tayo ng crisis, iyong mga kritiko. Kasi by pursuing their line of aggressive isolationist policy, eh talagang magkakaroon tayo ng crisis. Eh, ngayon wala eh, maganda nga ang usapan [The critics want us to have a crisis. By pursuing their line of aggressive isolationist policy, we might really have a crisis.
For now, there is none. We actually have good discussions],” he said.
Panelo then highlighted the country’s economic relations with China despite the unresolved territorial row in the disputed waterway.
“Nakita mo, ang ganda ng trade relations natin; nadadala na natin sa pakiusapan through diplomatic channels – iyon ang pinupunto ni Presidente [You’ve seen our good trade relations. We can achieve this through dialogue, through diplomatic channels. That’s the point of the President],” he said.
Despite the country’s economic ties with China, Panelo assured the public that the government has not abandoned the arbitral ruling that favors the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute.
He said the arbitral award was not useless since the country can tap it as “bargaining leverage” in the dispute with China.
“Mayroon ka ngayong bargaining leverage. Kung wala iyon, wala tayong…wala…wala kang ibibigay na, “Anong basis ninyo bakit kayo nandito.” Kaya hindi rin useless [You have a bargaining leverage. Without it, we cannot present anything. ‘What’s your basis why are you here?’ So it’s not useless],” he said.
“Kaya lang, ang problema nga ay iyong enforcement. Kaya nga ayaw din ng Amerika, ayaw din ng United Nations.
Kaya nga wise nga itong mama eh, si Presidente, “Oh sige, tingnan natin. Kaibigan ko kaya ito.” Kita mo, ang dami na nating nakukuha [The problem is the enforcement. Even America, the United States don’t want to enforce it.
That’s why the President is wise. ‘Okay, let’s see. Let’s be friends.’ Look, we have gained many benefits],” he added.