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Enrile: PNoy should avoid Panatag Shoal issue at SONA

President Benigno Aquino III should avoid talking about the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in his third State of the Nation Address, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said Thursday. “If I were the President, I wouldn’t touch on it [Panatag Shoal issue] in my SONA. That’s a sensitive national security problem… Don’t talk about a problem that your enemy has an interest on,” Enrile told reporters at a press briefing. He added that the President should just let the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) resolve the issue with China. Enrile, who was defense minister during the term of President Ferdinand Marcos, also advised the DFA to gather support from “friends” of the Philippines while trying to address the territorial dispute. “You should involve your friends in order to hold the giant at bay,” the senator said. The Philippines has been locking horns with China for the past three months over ownership of the Panatag Shoal off the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The Philippines uses the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to assert its ownership of the shoal, while China uses historical claims. Under the UNCLOS, a coastal country has the sovereign rights to explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources in the marine area up 200 nautical miles off its adjacent coast as part of its exclusive economic zone. During his second SONA, Aquino asserted Philippine sovereignty over islands in the West Philippine Sea, particularly the oil-rich Recto Bank located 150 kilometers off Palawan province. In the same speech, the President also said the country is ready to file diplomatic protests against other states that will threaten Philippine sovereignty. Aquino is scheduled to deliver his third SONA before members of Congress next Monday. ‘Economic direction’ Enrile further said he hopes the President’s third SONA will focus on the “economic direction” the chief executive wants for the country. At the House of Representatives, meanwhile, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin said she expects Aquino to talk about the country’s economic progress during the SONA. “The President’s SONA will probably tackle the economic achievements of the administration, and the progress on its transparency and good governance agenda,” Garin said in a separate statement. Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, for his part, said he wants the President to set a clear path towards the country’s development in the next four years. “The SONA will be about sustaining the right and straight path, and also about patriotism, all meant for our nation’s progress,” the lawmaker said said. — LBG, GMA News