Duterte asks Enrile to discuss South China dispute

Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte has invited former senator Juan F. Ponce Enrile to a discussion on the South China Sea dispute, saying “he was there right at the beginning.”

The veteran legislator was invited to visit the Palace to shed light on the country’s maritime dispute with China, Mr. Duterte said in a taped Cabinet meeting that aired on Friday. The meeting is set on Monday.

He said Mr. Enrile, 97, has the intellectual capacity to discuss the issue.

Sa kaniya ako makinig, sa kaniya ako bilib sa utak at pag-intindi nitong problema, itong ating West Philippine Sea.”

Mr. Enrile recently backed the administration’s China policy, saying the country is “no match” for Beijing.

The former lawmaker in 2012 criticized the supposed backdoor negotiations of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV with the Chinese government. He alleged that the Mr. Trillanes was selling the country’s sovereignty to Beijing.

A Philippine taskforce earlier reported the continued presence of almost 300 Chinese ships in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Mr. Duterte has said provoking Beijing into war over the disputed waterway would only lead to the massacre of government troops. He has called the arbitral ruling that rejected China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea a “piece of paper” that could be disposed of.

Also on Friday, Senator Risa Hontiveros-Barraquel called on the Palace to retract its “defeatist” statements regarding the country’s territorial dispute with China.

The office of Mr. Duterte should set the record straight immediately, Ms. Hontiveros said, citing Beijing’s continued incursions in the disputed waterway.

The senator also called for better coordination among government agencies when it comes to the South China Sea dispute.

“While Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin ordered the lodging of another diplomatic protest over the recent report of the NTF-WPS, he lamented that the task force should have informed the DFA on the presence of Chinese vessels first before releasing a statement to the media,” Mr. Hontiveros noted.

Mr. Locsin earlier said only his agency could speak for the President’s foreign policies.

This, after presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. made a false claim about a Philippine reef.

Mr. Roque and Mr. Locsin have clashed over the China issue several times.

The envoy in February told the Palace official to “lay off” after he suggested that the Philippines should sue Beijing at an international court for passing a law allowing its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels in the disputed waterway.

“We need to harmonize our statements and actions,” Ms. Hontiveros said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza