MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The new Philippine leader on Wednesday gathered four past presidents, most of whom have been politically at odds with one another, to discuss a unifying worry: their country’s territorial disputes with China.
President Rodrigo Duterte convened the National Security Council mainly to discuss his government’s strategy in negotiating with China a resolution to the long-seething South China Sea conflict, officials said.
Four ex-presidents attended the meeting at the Malacanang presidential palace: Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, in the most incumbent and former Filipino leaders to gather in one meeting in the Philippine republic’s history.
Inviting former presidents to the council’s meetings is traditional, but the gathering was a rare show of unity among them.
Arroyo helped oust Estrada in 2001, causing his downfall and eventual conviction on a plunder charge, but she granted him a pardon that allowed him to run again for public office. He’s now the mayor of Manila city.
Aquino worked to detain Arroyo on elections fraud charges in 2011 but she walked free last week from years of hospital detention after the Supreme Court cleared her of a plunder charge. Aquino also campaigned against Duterte, calling him a looming dictator during the campaign.
The five current and past presidents at one point posed for pictures — smiling.
Aside from the sea feud with China, Duterte planned to discuss other security concerns, including peace talks with communist and Muslim rebels and the battle he has fought against illegal drugs, which has left nearly 300 suspected drug dealers and users dead since he was inaugurated on June 30.