MANILA, Philippines – While admitting that the Philippines recently filed a note verbale against China, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday, June 1, chose to conceal details of the diplomatic note handed by Manila to Beijing.
In a press conference at around 10 pm on Friday, Cayetano confirmed that the Philippines filed a note verbale against China “because there was an incident.”
“There was an incident. Hindi na-settle agad sa usapan, eh ‘di siyempre magpa-file tayo (It was not immediately settled through talks. Of course we will file one),” Cayetano said.
The latest controversial incident in the West Philippine Sea was when a Chinese navy chopper harassed a Philippine navy rubber boat resupplying Filipino troops in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).
Rappler earlier reported that the Philippines handed China this note verbale, without telling the public about it, on May 26. The Ayungin Shoal incident was included in this diplomatic note, insiders said.
Cayetano, however, refused to give details of the Philippines’ recent note verbale. He did not even name the “incident” that prompted the note verbale, at least based on the video that aired on his official Facebook page.
Cayetano was asked in Friday’s press conference about when the Philippines handed this note verbale, and when it got a certain “assurance” from China.
“We filed several,” Cayetano answered.
The reporter asked again, “Hindi, the latest one po (No, the latest one).”
Cayetano said: “That’s what I say nga eh. If every time na lang ibulgar, kasi may mga leak eh, may mga ano sila, mga kakampi or whatever, alam naman nilang classified ‘yung mga documents, hinihingi pa rin nila, pinapalabas nila, at saka inaano nila ‘yung military na magalit, na para bang inutil ang administrasyon.”
(That’s what I say. If every time we reveal it, because there’s a leak, they have allies or whatever, they know that the documents are classified but they still ask for these, they release these, and they trigger the military to get mad, to think that the administration is foolish.)
“So kung sasabihin ko sa inyo kung anong finile, saan finile, et cetera, hindi ko na rin masusunod ang policy namin. But as I said, this does not all remain classified. At one point in time, lalabas din ito,” he added.
(So if I will tell you what was filed, where it was filed, et cetera, then I cannot follow our policy. But as I said, this does not all remain classified. At one point in time, these will all come out.)
Hitting Congressman Alejano
Cayetano stressed that the Philippines has filed notes verbale against China “several times,” but he did not say how many were filed under his watch.
He also said the Philippine government’s moves should not be judged for “every action,” but based on the results.
“If cha-chopsuey-in natin, titingnan natin lahat ng aming action, ‘yung judgement ‘nyo nasa bawat action. ‘Nag-protest ka ba rito? In-announce mo ba dito? Nag-file ka ba ng note verbale?’ Tingnan ninyo ang resulta,” he said.
(If you would do it piecemeal, you would look at our every action, your judgement would be on every action. “Did you file a protest here? Did you announce this? Did you file a note verbale?” But look at the results.)
He also criticized Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano for informing Filipinos about the May 11 incident in Ayungin Shoal.
“In-announce na kaagad ni Congressman Alejano na may incident noong May 11. Kaya nga nag-uusap eh. Kung hindi ma-resolve ‘yon, eh ‘di mag-iingay kami para may pressure din sa kanila o kaya dadalhin namin kung saan,” he said.
(Congressman Alejano immediately announced that there was an incident last May 11. But that’s why we’re talking. If we can’t resolve it, that’s when we will make noise so that there will be pressure on them, or we will bring the issue somewhere else.)
A politician-turned-diplomat, Cayetano also took a swipe at “anti-Duterte obstructionists” who don’t want joint development with China, supposedly because they don’t want the Philippines to progress.
Cayetano said joint development will result in lower oil prices and will serve as “a sample of cooperation.” He said, “Some people, they thrive on fighting other countries.”
Diplomatic protest should ‘be of public record’
In an earlier message to Rappler, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal stressed the need for the Philippine government to inform the public about diplomatic protests.
“While it is true that diplomatic protest need not be public, it must be made in a timely manner and be of public record. Government does not need to publicize the actual document, but it must at least say that it has done so, especially if the act/statement that is subject of protest was also made openly and is of public record,” Batongbacal said.
“The problem with the administration is that it confuses making its action public and of record with ‘megaphone diplomacy,’ tantamount to scandalous and combative posturing,” he added.
Batongbacal pointed out that China “regularly announces plainly and calmly its actions,” but the Philippines “merely stays silent or echoes and justifies China’s position.”
“In that context, a ‘silent’ or non-public diplomatic protest will be of little value. A public act/statement by one merits an equally public act/statement by the other, otherwise the latter will be deemed to have acquiesced/consented to the former,” Batongbacal said.
He also said recent developments indicate “that the government is beginning to feel the pressure of growing public dissatisfaction with its policy toward the West Philippine Sea.”
He said that “Cayetano’s ‘retroactive’ claim of having supposedly made many protests in the past two years rings hollow given how, during those two years, the public has not heard anything from government other than justifications for China’s behavior that echo the official lines from Beijing.”
Sought for comment, international affairs analyst Richard Heydarian said, “I think given the scale of China’s weaponization of contested islands in the West Philippine Sea, it’s time to question the utility of our soft-peddling ‘quiet diplomacy.'”
“At the very least, we have to make our redlines clear and reiterate them every time China threatens to cross,” Heydarian said.
Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Philippines needs to subject China to international pressure.
“The only way China might be convinced to bring its claims into accordance with international law and treat fairly its neighbors is if international pressure – diplomatic and economic – convinces it that there are costs to its current strategy,” Poling told Rappler.
“Quietly passing notes to Beijing and refusing to acknowledge Chinese harassment publicly doesn’t help increase that pressure,” Poling said. – Rappler.com
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