‘Duterte knows what he’s doing’ in PH-China relations, says Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines – Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo expressed confidence in President Rodrigo Duterte’s approach in handling the country’s relations with China. 

On Thursday, April 20, Arroyo called for a press conference together with former Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita (who was her executive secretary when she was president) and lawyer Estelito Mendoza to promote the latter’s new primer on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute. 

Mendoza’s primer, called “The Ocean Space or the Maritime Area of the Philippines,” aims to “inform on the fundamentals of the maritime area subject to the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Philippines.” 

Arroyo was asked during the press conference how Duterte should approach the ongoing South China sea dispute. (READ: Duterte, China envoy discuss 'proper handling' of sea row

The former president refused to give any recommendations to Duterte.  

Arroyo explained that when she was president, many people attempted to give her suggestions on handling Philippines-China relations without knowing the full picture.

“You know, I can only share what happened in my administration. I don’t 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,” said Arroyo.

“There were so many other people in the peanut gallery telling me what to do ,and they did not have all the facts at their disposal. So as far as I’m concerned, President Duterte knows what he’s doing and I do not have any recommendations to make,” she added. 

The International Crisis Group previously reported that, compared to her successor President Benigno Aquino III, Arroyo was "considerably more receptive" to Beijing's commercial incentives and was "apparently willing to compromise" the country's claims. (READ: Why China prefers Arroyo over Aquino)

It was also under Arroyo's term when the Philippines entered into a Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) with China and Vietnam. Under the JMSU, the 3 countries agreed to conduct joint explorations in the West Philippine Sea.

Arroyo is a known ally of Duterte, who attended her 70th birthday celebration in her La Vista home earlier in April.

When Arroyo finally walked free from hospital arrest after being cleared of plunder in 2016, she told reporters that it was a “strategic direction” for her to fully support Duterte’s legislative agenda. (READ: SC upholding acquittal in plunder case a 'vindication' for Arroyo

Arroyo, however, was ousted as deputy speaker because she thumbed down the controversial death penalty measure, one of the pet bills of the President. 

Arroyo continued supporting Duterte and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez even after being stripped of her plum post in the House. 

Duterte’s approach in handling the sea row was among the grounds of impeachment cited in the first complaint filed against him by Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano.

The mutineer-turned-lawmaker alleged Duterte failed to assert the Philippines' exclusive sovereign rights over Benham Rise and its territorial claims over the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.