The Daily Manila Shimbun


Cayetano downplays reported presence of Chinese ships in Pag-Asa Island

August 16, 2017

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano downplayed a reported presence of Chinese Navy and Coast Guard ships near the Pag-Asa Island.

Instead, Cayetano said Filipinos should learn to develop “mutual trust” with China in the same way it trusts the United States, a longtime ally.

Pag-Asa is the largest island occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly group of islands in the West Philippine Sea, and is part of Kalayaan town in Palawan.

“The presence of ships alone does not mean anything. I mean, for example, let me ask Cong. (Rep. Gary) Alejano (of Magdalo Partylist), why were we not concerned about the US conducting freedom of navigation (in the West Philippine Sea)? Their ships are so huge. Why? Because they (Americans) are (our) allies,” he told a press conference at the House of Representatives.

Cayetano addressed reporters before attending a closed-door hearing of the House special committee on West Philippine Sea chaired by Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr.  the former speaker.

Cayetano lamented that most people “keep looking at China as the enemy and (that) every time they have a movement, we react too much.”

“If we start developing mutual trust with them, we (just) pick up and phone, call them (and ask) why do you have so many ships there?” said Cayetano.

On Monday night, Alejano revealed there is a “suspicious massing up” of Chinese Navy and Coast Guard and maritime militias north of Pag-asa Island which he said is a “threat to our interest in West Philippine Sea.”

Alejano, a Marine captain, said  his military sources told him that China deployed two frigates, one Coast Guard vessel, and two large fishing vessels with their maritime militia just one to three nautical miles north of Pag-asa Island.

Cayetano said while he appreciates Alejano’s gesture, he added that lawmakers should still be reminded that “there's a thin line between informing us and stirring up the situation.”

“There is no situation there that is a cause of lowering mutual trust among all of claimants (countries) at this point in time,” he said.

“Remember, the way it's been packaged in the past, it's Philippines vs China which is absolutely not true because there are multiple claimants in the West Philippines Sea, we have Malaysia, China, Brunei Darussalam,” Cayetano said.

It was also appeared, Cayetano said, that the US is 100 percent for the Philippines in the dispute which he said “is also absolutely not true.”

“The US is a strong ally. The US is 100 percent aligned with us (on the issue of) freedom of navigation but when it comes to the ownership of features and territorial claims, their stand is they do not get involved in territorial issues,” he said.

Cayetano said he is in touch with Chinese counterparts and the Philippines can still “complain” to China without formally filing diplomatic protests.

“In the past it's our strategy to confront China every opportunity we have and diplomatic protest is one of the instruments we use. That's not our strategy anymore, our strategy now is to have peace, stability and dialogue and so far it's working,” he said. DMS