From 'assert our rights' to 'don't antagonize': Enrile flip-flopped on Scarborough row, says journalist

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 19 2021 10:52 AM | Updated as of May 19 2021 03:48 PM

From 'assert our rights' to 'don't antagonize': Enrile flip-flopped on Scarborough row, says journalist 1
Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile shares his narrative with President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea prior to the President's talk to the people at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on May 17, 2021. Simeon Celi, Presidential Photo

MANILA (UPDATE) - Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is flip-flopping on the issue of the West Philippine Sea, first asserting the country's sovereign rights against China in 2012 before softening his stance under President Rodrigo Duterte, a veteran journalist said Wednesday. 

Speaking to ANC, Marites Vitug said Enrile backed President Benigno Aquino III during a July 2012 Cabinet meeting after Beijing took control of Scarborough Shoal.

"When I interviewed Enrile, he had a very lucid recollection of what happened in the Cabinet meeting. He said that PNoy asked them, 'Should we go bilateral with this dispute... or should we go international? Get the support of our allies and make it an international issue," she recalled.

"And Enrile answered, he said that, according to my interview with him, he said, 'Let us assert our rights, Mr. President without foregoing bilateral talks with China.'"

"At the end of Cabinet meeting, majority of those present agreed to internationalize the issue and Enrile was one of them. He was supportive of asserting the Philippine sovereign rights without foregoing bilateral relations or consultations with Beijing," she added.

Vitug, author of "Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case against China," said Enrile's current position was the exact opposite of what he asserted in 2012. 

"It has softened compared to what he said that the Philippines should assert its sovereign rights. Now, Enrile told President Duterte that the Philippines should not antagonize China. It's opposite," she said.

"Because if you assert sovereign rights... it looks like an offensive or antagonistic position, which Enrile departed from in this talk with the President the other day."

In a Teleradyo interview Tuesday, Enrile denied making such remark.

"I don't remember having said that," he said.

"I don't recall I was interviewed by Ms. Vitug about the West Philippine Sea."

"My memory is failing me but pardon me I can't remember it," he added.

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On Monday, Enrile advised Duterte to keep a friendly approach towards Beijing and ignore those criticizing his stance on the West Philippine Sea dispute. 

"Kailangan na friendly ang approach natin d’yan, hindi hard assertive and aggressive approach," Enrile told the President 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.)

BROKERING A DEAL

In the interview, Vitug said the Philippine government could also learn lessons from what happened in Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

In her research, she said that then-US assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell brokered an agreement with China to withdraw all ships on both sides from the Scarborough Shoal in 2012. However, Beijing reneged on the deal.

Former Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Fu Ying also denied there was an agreement, Vitug added. 

"The lesson here is that in such a crucial negotiation, shouldn't a representative from a government that is affected have been there for really a first-hand feel of the negotiation?" she said.

Scarborough, called by Filipinos as Panatag Shoal and by the Chinese as Huangyan Island, was the site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China. The standoff erupted when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.

Manila's maritime row with Beijing made headlines anew after hundreds of Chinese ships were sighted in Philippine waters in March. 

The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety. 

China has ignored a July 2016 ruling of a UN-backed tribunal that rejected its historical 9-dash line claim in response to a Philippine filing. 

Duterte has called this legal victory "just a piece of paper" that belongs to the "waste basket." 

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