Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano on Monday enumerated five ways on how to “peacefully” deal with China and end the series of aggressions against Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea.
“We should do everything, but kailangan natin ng wisdom here. If you hate your enemy at magiging emotional ka, you will stop studying their history, their stand, and their reaction to whatever we will do,” Cayetano said in a media interview on August 7, 2023.
The independent senator, who served as Foreign Affairs Secretary in 2017-2018, said for one, it is “very clear” that the government can file a diplomatic protest.
“I do not agree with megaphone or microphone diplomacy, but (we have to file a diplomatic protest) kapag ganito kasi ka-blatant and also for the morale of our men and women in the coast guard and also for our neighbors to see that hindi man tayo papayag,” he explained.
He shared that during his stint as Foreign Affairs Secretary, the Executive took a holistic approach to its bilateral relationship with China, taking into consideration the people-to-people relations, economy, tourism, and possible Chinese participation in the country’s infrastructure projects. Protests were filed only “when necessary.”
He also said not filing protests was not detrimental to the country’s cause. “It was a fake news that if you don’t protest, mawawala y’ung claim mo diyan. That was a misinformation to our people. So once we clarified that, we used it when necessary,” he said.
Asked if the Philippine government should summon the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, Cayetano said it could also be an option and as long as engaging the Chinese Ambassador in a “heartfelt” dialogue is part of the objective.
“Yes in the sense that it’s important to show our indignation, that this is unacceptable, but it should actually include a very heartfelt dialogue,” he said.
Thirdly, Cayetano said it will be beneficial for the Philippines to continue pursuing the Code of Conduct, which has been under the works by the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“What if for some reason, China withdraws from the WPS? We will still not be at a strategic advantage because Vietnam has 11 within our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), Malaysia has 5, Taiwan medyo malaki na ang reclamation,” he said.
Cayetano also urged the government to be open to the joint exploration of oil and gas with China, saying mutual benefit in a resource leads to peace.
He also said such an approach is “safe” as long as the Philippine government sees to it that there is a “good legal framework.”
“We should really ask China, ‘Are you still interested in joint exploration of oil and gas?’ ‘Pag magpartners kayo at pareho kayong nakikinabang diyan sa oil and gas, definitely may peace. It is a technique,” he said.
“Ang magkapitbahay pwedeng mag-away everyday for whatever reason, pero kung ang kapitbahay are business partners and maganda ang takbo ng business, they will not fight with each other,” he added.
‘China-US rivalry is a possible factor’
As to why China has suddenly resorted again to aggression after years of relatively peaceful cooperation between the two Coast Guards under the Duterte administration, Cayetano said he believes there is a “deeper reason” behind the sudden aggression.
“Sobrang disturbing na may magandang meeting, tapos the Senate showed firm resolve against China with multiple diplomatic options, and then suddenly something like this happens. I’m quite sure that there’s something behind this,” he said.
Cayetano said he suspects that the Philippines’ “closeness” with the United States through the Mutual Defense Treaty may have been one of the things that triggered China.
“May mga nangyayari diyan on the ground na naiipit tayo minsan sa strategic rivalry ng US at China,” he said.
He said in order to get to the bottom of the series of attacks against the Philippine Coast Guard, the government must talk to the Chinese Government “at a very high level.”
“We really have to see them at a very high level and [ask], ‘What’s causing all of these? Why the sudden aggression and harassment?’ May malalim [na dahilan] diyan (sa attack),” Cayetano said.
“That’s why I’m in favor of President Duterte becoming a very very special, senior minister type of special envoy. Pero hindi lang isang upuan ito, and it should be done on the highest level,” he added.