Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday urged the government to “get things done in the West Philippine Sea based on what is right, not on might,” saying wisdom is essential in looking to the past and learning from history as the country forms a united West Philippine Sea strategy.
“As elected leaders of the nation, it is our duty to get things done the right way. For this we need wisdom and circumspection. In formulating a national strategy, we have to look honestly into the past and make every effort to learn from history. ,” Cayetano said in a statement on July 28, 2023.
Cayetano made the statement days after questioning Senate Resolution 659 filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros on July 26 which urges the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, 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.
Cayetano said the Senate must continue the discussion on the West Philippine Sea and that maturity is needed “not only in how we approach the problem but also in how we contextualize our approach and strategy.”
“In this regard, I believe not bringing this matter to the UN General Assembly is NOT a sign of weakness but a mark of maturity,” he said.
Calling for an “aggressive and sincere effort” to have direct negotiations as well as confidence-building measures with China, he said this could “jumpstart a joint approach to the West Philippines Sea dilemma that will see peace and stability in the short term as we work towards an acceptable solution in the long term.”
“Both countries have a large stake in maintaining stability in the region. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, with every country in the whole ASEAN scrambling to get back on its economic feet as soon as possible, peace, order, and stability are essential for steady progress and development,” he said.
At the same time, Cayetano said the country “cannot be ignorant of geopolitics” but must be “conscious of and sensitive to the dynamics of rival superpowers, yet be assertive that superpowers should not force upon us their way of doing things in the region. A rules-based approach that is fair to all is what we should insist on.”
“The Philippine government’s problem has never been who is ‘right,’ rather it is who has the ‘might’ to enforce being right,” he said, noting that the option to bring the matter of China’s harassment of Philippine troops to the UNGA “has been discussed many times in the past.”
“Many experts have said that it will not help the Philippines’ cause and might even weaken our position… We are already on very firm ground based on International Law from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and The Hague arbitration award. If we bring this matter before the United Nations General Assembly, anything less than a unanimous vote will only weaken our position and clutter the issues. The UNGA is not a venue of enforcement,” he said.
During the discussion on the resolution on Wednesday, Cayetano joined senators in expressing outrage over China’s harassment of Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea but urged the Senate to proceed carefully on the issue to avoid weakening the country’s stance in front of the international community.
Cayetano questioned whether the proposed resolution is a sound strategy and whether the UNGA is the appropriate forum for it. He said the President, as the chief diplomat, has not expressed his desire to take the matter to the UN.
For his part, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said the issue must be clearly thought out first before any action is taken, particularly on bringing the matter to the UNGA.
“Ito ay patuloy na discussion na ginagawa particularly sa security group. And we are also consulting stakeholders,” Año told reporters in an interview.