MANILA — Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said on Monday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to keep a "friendly" approach to China in resolving its incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
Enrile said the issue had been a problem even during the regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, where he served as Defense chief. China's navy was still weak then, he said.
The PLA Navy is now the world’s second-largest after that of the United States, according to the South China Morning Post.
Enrile said about 80 percent of China's food and energy necessities pass through the South China Sea. The same is true for Japan, South Korean, and Tawain's imports, he added.
"Kailangan na friendly ang approach natin d’yan, hindi hard assertive and aggressive approach," Enrile told Duterte in a taped meeting.
"Kung hindi tayo magkakaunawaan sa Tsina, madadamay ang interes ng ating mga kababayan, ating ekonomiya pati na rin ang ating seguridad dito sa usapin na ito," added the former lawmaker.
(Our approach there should be friendly, not hard and aggressive. If we fail to reach an agreement with China, our economy and security will be affected.
As of the end of 2020, China had about 360 ships and submarines including more than 130 major surface combatants, while the US Navy had 297 ships, according to the US defense department’s 2020 annual report to Congress on Chinese military power, SCMP reported.
However, the US Navy’s 4.6 million total tonnes still made it the world’s most powerful blue-water navy, while the PLA Navy had 2 million tonnes in 2019, according to the Centre for International Maritime Security.
Enrile urged Duterte to strengthen the Philippine military, like China did.
"Hindi tayo maaaring umasa sa ating mga kaalyado, kahit na sila na ang pinakamalaks na puwersa sa ating planeta sapagkat marami rin silang problema sa kanilang buhay, sa kanilang bansa," he said.
(We cannot rely on our allies even if they are the most powerful force in the planet because they have their own problems with their life, with their country.)
Duterte has also threatened to cancel a military pact with the United States, the Philippines' sole defense ally.
He refused to press Beijing to follow the ruling by a United Nations-backed court that junked its "historic" claims into the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea, as he pursued investments and loans from the economic superpower.
Chinese vessels continue to encroach into the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines in the waterway.
Duterte had said he "never asked for anything" from China.
"I was asking [for] friendship, that was all," he said.
"Kung ako'y nagsisinungaling, mag-resign ako bukas kaagad," he added.
(If I am lying, I will resign immediately tomorrow.)