Cayetano denies China ‘bullying’ Philippines with war threat

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Cayetano denies China ‘bullying’ Philippines with war threat

'The context was not threatening each other that we'll go to war,' Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano says

MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano denied that China was “bullying” the Philippines as he downplayed the regional giant’s reported threat of war against the Southeast Asian country.

“I will not contradict the President’s words. I am just telling you that given the fact that I cannot tell you much, my interpretation in the meeting is that there was no bullying or pushing around,” Cayetano said on Monday, May 22, in his first press conference as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Cayetano said he is not authorized to disclose Duterte’s entire conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

In this exchange, Duterte said Xi warned him that China  “will go to war” if the Philippines “forces the issue” of Manila’s legal victory against China over the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines’ top diplomat pointed out, however, that “there was mutual respect” even as their conversation “was very frank.”

“You have to look at the context. The context was about conflict resolution. So the context was not threatening each other that we’ll go to war. The context is how do we stabilize the region, and how do we prevent conflict,” Cayetano said.

He stressed that it was about the need for dialogue because “the threat of conflict will always be there.”

Cayetano, whom Duterte recently plucked from the Senate to serve at the DFA, is one of the President’s closest associates. The new DFA chief was Duterte’s defeated running mate in the 2016 elections, and was one of the President’s staunchest defenders at the Senate. 

‘Trust the captain of the ship’

In his press conference on Monday, Cayetano also compared the West Philippine Sea dispute to a fight over shoes. He did this to further explain China’s reported threat of war.

Cayetano said: “‘Pag sinabi kong, ‘Pare, sapatos ko ‘yan.’ ‘Hindi, akin ‘yan.’ ‘Pare, away tayo niyan ‘pagka hindi tayo nagkasundo kung kanino.’ So puwedeng ang interpretation mo, ‘Uy, aawayin ako ni Alan.’ ‘Di ba?”

(If I say, “Dude, those are my shoes.” “No, those are mine.” “Dude, we’ll fight if we don’t agree on who owns these shoes.” So your interpretation could be, “Alan will fight with me.” Right?)

“But that wasn’t the context,” he continued. “The context is, paano natin pagkakasunduan (how will we agree), how do we start the dialogue?”

As to why Duterte bared the Chinese president’s threat, Cayetano said: “I can answer why I think the President stated those words. Because he was being barraged by comments of what he should do. ‘Dapat may ganitong statement sa ASEAN, dapat i-file mo ‘to, dapat ipadala mo ‘yung Navy dito (You should have this kind of statement in ASEAN, you should file this, you should send the Navy here.'”

Referring to Duterte, Cayetano said: “Of course if every day, for more than a week, you have people criticizing or telling him to do something else, he will have to give some kind of response.” 

“Having said that, expect the ups and downs, expect the arguments, expect people, and we welcome the critics. What I’m just saying is that you have to trust the captain of the ship,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano’s former colleagues at the Senate have voiced concern, however, about China’s threat. “We should stand up to China. We should not allow our country to be bullied and threatened,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email