Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday joined his colleagues in the Senate in expressing outrage against China’s harassment of Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea but urged the body to tread carefully on the issue so as not to weaken the country in front of the international community.
Cayetano made the call as the Senate tackled Proposed Senate Resolution No. 659 which seeks to urge the Philippine Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to sponsor a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) calling on China to stop its harassment of Philippine vessels within the West Philippine Sea.
“Magkakasama tayo sa issue [on West Philippine Sea] regardless of political color or administration. What I am saying is that it is just a big step, and even if we can do it [sponsor a resolution before the UNGA], should we do it without consulting the executive? Because this might weaken us in front of the international community,” the independent senator said in a manifestation at the plenary floor on Wednesday, July 26.
Cayetano, who served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs under President Rodrigo Duterte from 2017 to 2018, clarified that he is one with the Senate in its outrage against the aggressive tactics of China in the West Philippine Sea.
But he also questioned the resolution’s focus on China when Vietnam and Malaysia — both allies to the Philippines — also have a presence in several islands that are within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“I’m not saying na kalaban natin ang Vietnam at Malaysia — they’re our allies as of now. But they are also claimants and have a clear strategy: improve their economy, bilaterally negotiate with China, and then build their defenses,” he said.
Cayetano said what concerns him now is whether or not the proposed resolution is a sound strategy and if the UNGA is the proper forum to take it up to.
“The President, who is the chief diplomat, has not stated that he wants this to be taken up in the UN. Yes, we are not a rubber stamp, and yes may sariling pag-iisip ang Senate. But ang Constitution na mismo ang nagsasabi na dapat ang Presidente ang may diskarte,” he said.
“We agree on the outrage [on China’s territorial claim and aggressive tactics], but we disagree that the UNGA is the right way,” he added.
Cayetano emphasized that he only wants to ensure that the Senate makes a solid decision on this issue that would not put the chamber and the executive branch in an awkward position.
“This could cause embarrassment in the Senate if the President orders the DFA not to file the resolution. On the other hand, if it is going to file a resolution, why not hear this in a committee, get the input of the NTS-WPS (National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea), get the input of 24 senators, and strengthen it?” he said.
Cayetano said the NTF-WPS, which is led by the National Security Adviser and is composed of decision makers from other executive departments, can give the Senate correct and updated information on the West Philippine Sea.
The independent senator’s proposal to have a closed-door caucus on Monday (July 31) with the NTS-WPS got the support of Senators Francis Tolentino and Senator Loren Legarda, resulting in the deferment of Proposed Senate Resolution No. 659 to the same day.
“I might disagree with him (the President) on the China issue, on how to deal with China, but I do believe he was the one elected and we should at least hear out his people — the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea and the DFA — so that we know where we’re going,” he said.
“At least mapag-usapan natin behind closed doors the implications of not being in sync with the strategy of the President. And in this issue, there’s no majority or minority with the president. This is in the Philippines’ interest,” he said.