MANILA- Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would not advise President Rodrigo Duterte on his handling of the maritime dispute with China, confident that the latter “knows what he’s doing.”
In a rare press conference, Arroyo said she would not dare make any recommendation to Duterte as she does not have all the information in the President’s hands.
“I can only share what happened in my administration. I do not know all the facts that are available to the current administration, so I do not dare to make any recommendations and I keep that attitude because of my own experience as President,” Arroyo told reporters.
During her time, she said, several made recommendations on how to handle the dispute even if they did not have full knowledge of the facts on the ground.
“As far as I’m concerned, President Duterte knows what he is doing, and I do not have any specific recommendations to make,” she added.
It was under Arroyo’s presidency when Republic Act No. 9522, the Amended Definitions of the Archipelagic Baseline of the Philippines, was enacted, declaring Philippine ‘sovereignty and jurisdiction’ over Scarborough Shoal.
The shoal, traditional fishing grounds for Filipinos just off Masinloc, Zambales, saw tension between the Philippines and the Chinese in 2012 after Beijing cordoned off the area.
Filipino fishermen have been able to enter the shoal again amid a turnaround in Philippine-Chinese ties since President Duterte assumed power.
While she wouldn’t meddle in Duterte’s strategy on the dispute, Arroyo recommended that the National Security Council focus on economic ties with China.
Earlier this month, Duterte ordered troops to occupy uninhabited islets and shoals that the Philippines claims in the Spratly Islands.
He also aired plans to go to the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys on Independence Day to raise the flag there but later retracted his statement.
“I would like to correct myself along the way dito. I said I will go to the island of Kalayaan, Pag-asa on June 12 to raise the Filipino flag there,” Duterte said in a meeting with the Filipino community in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he is in a two-day state visit.
“If every heads of state of the contending parties around the West Philippine Sea will go there to plant their flags, there will likely be trouble. Because of our friendship with China, I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag,” Duterte said.