Diplomacy, not armed conflict way forward in West Philippine Sea dispute

Former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday doubled down on the Philippines’ maritime territorial claims over the West Philippine Sea, saying any tension over the disputed waters can be solved through diplomacy and not with armed conflict.

“Definitely territory natin yan. Definitely wala dapat compromise sa West Philippine Sea. Ang pinag-uusapan lang, handling,” Cayetano said in an interview with radio station DZRH on April 11, 2022.

Mag-usap tayo, paano ba ang gagawin natin diyan,” he added.

(That’s definitely our territory. There should definitely be no compromise on the West Philippine Sea. What we need to talk about is how to handle the issue.)

Cayetano, a former Foreign Affairs Secretary, pointed out that while diplomacy is not a catch-all solution for all the country’s external disputes, it can help ease tensions with other countries.

The former Speaker shared that in his experience in dealing with China, the world’s second-largest economy and an emerging military power in the Asia-Pacific region, he found that Beijing is far more receptive to backchannel talks instead of very public tit-for-tat statements that usually end up inflaming tensions.

Kapag pinapahiya in public at ‘tsaka sa media, lalo nilang pinapatulan kasi sasabihin nila na right nila yun,” Cayetano said.

Pero kapag nag-uusap quietly na, ‘sandali lang, right niyo yun pero right din naman namin e, kung ganito mangyayari sa ‘tin e magkakagulo tayo,’” he added.

(The more we shame them publicly and in the media, the more they will act against us  because they will say it is their right. But if we talk to each other quietly, we can caution each other against insisting on our rights.)

Cayetano pointed out that China would rather conduct its diplomatic exchanges with Manila quietly, something he described as “telephone diplomacy,” instead of through the usual “microphone diplomacy” of formal public statements because Beijing does not see the Philippines as an enemy.

Naiipit lang tayo, kasi actually ang magkalaban yung Western countries at yung China, hindi tayo,” Cayetano said.

(We are caught between the dispute between Western countries and China.)

The lawmaker said the Philippines has very cordial relationships with both Vietnam and Malaysia, whose militaries have set up a permanent presence in more maritime features within the country’s exclusive economic zone compared to China.

According to him, the way the Philippines conducts its relationship with both Vietnam and Malaysia is a model that can be used with Beijing.

Hindi tayo nag-iingay versus Vietnam at Malaysia, kasi nag-uusap tayo at nagbubusinahan tayo,” Cayetano said.

Pero lumapit ka rin dun sa mga kung nasaan sila may military, sasabihan ka rin, this is Vietnamese territory. Sila, lumapit sa atin, sasabihan natin, this is Philippine territory,” he added.

(We don’t publicly argue with Vietnam and Malaysia because we talk to each other and we remind each other. But if we approach areas where they have military presence, they say this is Vietnamese territory. And if they approach our areas, we also tell them this is Philippine territory.)

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