Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday raised the possibility of making former President Rodrigo Duterte the country’s special envoy to China to help reach out on a back-channel basis given his good standing with the Chinese government.
“There’s no doubt that President Duterte is one of the best representatives of the country when talking to the Chinese government because of his relationship with President Xi Jinping and may experience na both good and bad during his term,” Cayetano told reporters in an ambush interview on July 31, 2023.
Cayetano, who served as Duterte’s Foreign Affairs Secretary from 2017 to 2018, said the former President has also gained the trust and respect of the Chinese government in the highest levels.
“If ever we know someone who can go to the highest levels of the Chinese government that the Chinese government trusts and the Filipino trusts, si President Duterte iyon. But then we have to come out with a strategy that is both comprehensive and that will work in the short and long term,” he said.
When asked about Duterte’s seemingly comfortable relationship with China, Cayetano said he never saw the former President compromise on anything regarding the Philippines.
“Never kong nakita na nagcompromise at binenta ni President Duterte ang Pilipinas. Iba lang y’ung pagiging bulaklakin ng bibig niya at iba lang siya magsalita, but he never sold out and he will never sell out the Philippines,” he said.
Cayetano said there is urgency on the need for back-channel talks with China to ensure the stability not only of China and Philippine relations but also of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“The earlier the better kasi tingnan mo, bakit naman lumakas ang China? Kasi maganda ang ekonomiya nila. Ngayon sa taas ng presyo, we need to get all the help we can get sa bigas, gulay, baboy, sa isda at sa lahat,” he said.
“We’re not only talking about China and the Philippines, I’m talking about fellow ASEAN and China. May danger talaga na pagtaas ng pagkain dahil sa nangyari sa Ukraine ngayon na hindi na naman pinapayagan sa Black Sea to transport the grain from Ukraine and the exports from India,” he added.
Cayetano, however, clarified that Duterte should be tapped only for urgent messages and not the daily grind of talking with China.
“If may urgent at may emergency, pwede siya. But y’ung day-to-day negotiations, iyon na y’ung kung ano y’ung comfort ng Pangulo. Hindi naman sa hindi kaya. It’s a full-time job eh. Stamina ang needed diyan kasi magpapabalik-balik ng Beijing,” he said.
Strongly worded resolution vs China
With the Senate going on a closed-door meeting on Monday night with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, Cayetano hopes the senators will take the time to be informed and to decide on what to express as a body on the issue.
The meeting was called after Cayetano last week cautioned the passage of Resolution No. 659 filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros which urges the government through the DFA to sponsor a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) calling on China to stop its harassment of Philippine vessels within the WPS.
He said he was amenable to coming up with a strongly-worded resolution that expresses the Senate’s outrage against Chinese incursions.
“Good development na active ang Senate ngayon sa issue na iyan. Ang sa akin lang, pabor sa atin lahat ito dahil maraming facts na hindi alam tungkol dito. We have to explore many options, hindi puwedeng init lang ng ulo. We have to explore all the means and we will come to the conclusion that the best way is to improve the economy and strengthen our Coast Guard and Navy,” he said.
Cayetano also expressed hope that the Senate will not rush to a decision on Resolution 659 given the importance of the issue.
“Between Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) and WPS, mas importante naman ito. Mahaba-haba naman ang interpellation sa MIF, ‘wag naman nila madaliin ito. Wala naman deadline sa UN… September pa y’ung session ng United Nations,” he said.
“Whatever we decide for later on, I think it is good for the public na pare-pareho tayong na-educate. These discussions help everyone,” he added.