MANILA - The Philippines should not trade away its national security as it engages in economic diplomacy with China.
This is the advice of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to the Duterte government amid concerns over China's admission that its ships sailed in Benham Rise, a vast area east of the country declared by the United Nations in 2012 as part of the Philippines' continental shelf.
"Our northern neighbor, for example, should not be postured as a total solution to our economic well-being, especially to the diminished importance of a host of countries that have been traditionally assisting the Philippines to achieve significant economic growth over the past several years," said Del Rosario.
"With the recent negative observations in the South China Sea and now Benham Rise, promoting national security including protecting what is ours must be paramount," said del Rosario.
Del Rosario, who headed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) during former Pres. Benigno Aquino III's term, added that national security should be non-negotiable.
"Under no circumstances would it be wise for us to trade away our national security," del Rosario said.
"We agree with working for a constructive engagement that is mutually beneficial. At the same time, we should consider proceeding in a more guarded manner," he added.
Del Rosario's comments came following President Duterte's move to play down China's admission that it sent ships to the Benham Rise. On Monday Duterte said he would rather not fight with China since "things are going great" in the Philippines.
Del Rosario, who won the Philippines' case against China in the Arbitral Tribunal in the Hague, also advised the Philippines not to set aside the United Nations ruling.
He said the country can use its chairmanship this year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to advance international law.
"As this year's ASEAN Chair, the Philippines must use this opportunity to assert effective leadership on the South China Sea issue by including the arbitral tribunal outcome in the Code of Conduct framework. The responsible nations of the world are counting on the Philippines to affirm its advocacy for promoting the rule of law," said Del Rosario.
-- with a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News