’50-100′ protests vs China? Cayetano now says ‘we haven’t counted’

Paterno Esmaquel II
’50-100′ protests vs China? Cayetano now says ‘we haven’t counted’
'In a purpose-driven foreign policy, how many doesn't really matter,' says Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano as he is grilled by Senator Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines – From claiming that the Duterte administration has filed “50 to 100” diplomatic protests against China, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano this time said they “haven’t counted” the number of protests filed by Manila against Beijing. 

Cayetano made this claim during the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) budget hearing at the Senate on Tuesday, August 28, as opposition senator Risa Hontiveros grilled him about the West Philippine Sea.

The Duterte administration has drawn flak for its soft-handed approach toward Beijing’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea. Cayetano in a May 30 congressional hearing claimed, however, that the Philippines has filed 50 to 100 diplomatic protests against China – although silently – over the past two years.  

“So you are confirming that there were 50 to 100 diplomatic actions?” Hontiveros asked Cayetano, her former colleague at the Senate. “How many were in the form of notes verbale, how many were diplomatic demarches, how many were collective notes?”

“Honestly, we haven’t counted,” Cayetano answered, “but we’re giving you the assurance that for each and every incident, we take the appropriate diplomatic action.”

His answer was in contrast to a written statement by the DFA on June 4. The DFA said the Philippines has made “85 diplomatic actions” under the Duterte administration, and 35 of these diplomatic actions “were undertaken by Secretary Allan (sic) Peter S. Cayetano.” 

‘Purpose-driven foreign policy’

Still, Cayetano on Tuesday turned to critics of the Duterte administration’s approach toward China – Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. 

On the number of diplomatic protests, Cayetano said, “Si Congressman Alejano ang nagpipilit magtanong, ilan?” (It’s Congressman Alejano who keeps on asking, how many?)

To that, Hontiveros interjected, “Ako rin po.” (Me too.)

GRILLING. Senator Risa Hontiveros (right) grills Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (left) about the West Philippine Sea, during a budget hearing at the Senate on August 28, 2018. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

“Yes, Ma’am,” Cayetano said. “But we’re telling him, in a purpose-driven foreign policy, how many doesn’t really matter.”

In the case of Carpio, Cayetano blasted him for saying that failure to file a diplomatic protest against China is “acquiescence.” Cayetano said Carpio’s claim is a fallacy, and “it’s not true that we didn’t protest.” 

A few minutes later, Hontiveros asked Cayetano again about the diplomatic protests. “It’s hard to imagine that our [foreign affairs] department hasn’t counted those different kinds of protest actions.”

Interrupting Hontiveros, Cayetano said, “Senator, they asked me to estimate, but I explained to them that when the President talks to President Xi [Jinping], that is a protest. When I talk to my counterpart and tell them, that is a protest. When we file a note verbale, and it depends if you put 3 items there, you’re protesting 3 items. That’s why when they were…,” as he was interrupted by Hontiveros as well.

“So more or less, how many notes verbale have we sent China?” Hontiveros shot back.

“I can count and tell you in a closed session,” Cayetano anwered, “but what I’m saying is that it’s not our playbook. It’s not our strategy now to keep announcing that, because we are getting results.”

Under President Rodrigo Duterte’s watch, several Chinese moves have fueled outrage among Filipinos, but the Duterte administration refuses to publicize protests against China for the sake of economic gains. These Chinese moves include taking the catch of fishermen in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and warning planes that fly over the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com 

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.