MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Wednesday, April 18, that the Philippines is considering filing a diplomatic protest against China over the reported sighting of two Chinese military planes on Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef).
Cayetano had previously said it is no longer the Philippines' strategy to file a diplomatic protest against China at "every opportunity we have."
"We're taking the diplomatic action," Cayetano said on Wednesday, reacting to the banner story of the Philippine Daily Inquirer about two Chinese military planes photographed on Panganiban Reef.
When asked if the diplomatic avenues include filing a diplomatic protest, Cayetano answered, "Yes, it may include that. It depends where and how."
It is unlikely, however, that the Duterte administration will publicize any diplomatic protest it files against China.
The Duterte administration, after all, prefers to raise its concerns with China through one-on-one talks, in hopes that better ties with Beijing will translate to economic benefits. (READ: Duterte's China itch)
This is different from the Aquino administration's style of publicizing diplomatic protests to hold Beijing accountable before the rest of the world.
Based on Cayetano's previous statements, it remains to be seen, too, whether the Duterte administration will file a diplomatic protest at all.
In a press conference on August 16, 2017, Cayetano said of the reported sighting of 5 Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea: "In the past it was our strategy to confront China every opportunity we have, and the diplomatic protest was one of the instruments we used. That is not our strategy anymore."
"Our strategy now is to have peace and stability and dialogue, and so far it is working," he added.
Cayetano made his remarks on Wednesday after the Inquirer reported: "Two Chinese military transport planes have been photographed on Panganiban Reef, marking the first reported presence of this type of aircraft in Philippine territory in the South China Sea and raising the prospect that China will base warplanes there."
Panganiban Reef is a feature found in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines but is claimed by China. (READ: Stop calling it the 'disputed' West Philippine Sea – Carpio)
"Surveillance images taken on January 6 showed two Xian Y-7 military transport planes 20 to 50 meters apart on the ramp near Runway 21 on Panganiban, one of 7 reefs in the Spratlys that China has transformed into artificial islands with military capabilities," the Inquirer reported.
Cayetano said the "diplomatic action" on these military planes should be taken "in the context of how the dialogues are being done now."
"But we'll make sure that our claims are on record, and we'll make sure that all the other claimants know the Philippine position, which is to totally roll back," he said.
When asked what he means by "roll back," Cayetano explained, "What's the most ideal for all of us is that we return the features back to their natural state."
Still, Cayetano said it is "not that simple" to "roll back" to the sea's "natural state."
He said: "It's ideal but it's not practical because for it to be done, all claimants and people outside the region have to be there. It's like world peace. We all aspire for it. Can it happen? It's happening in some parts of the world, but in some parts of the world it's exploding."
Cayetano earlier said the Philippines is "aggressively" pursuing joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea.
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 email@example.com.