Whose foreign secretary?
To hear Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano talk about Philippine-Chinese relations is to hear the whiny sound of surrender and subservience. In Cayetano’s view, the landmark arbitral tribunal ruling in 2016 that gave the Philippines a sweeping legal victory over China over disputed parts of the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea is not a sign of strength but, rather, a source of weakness.
After all, what does the following statement, from the former senator with a reputation for articulate rhetoric, really mean, but that smoother relations with China are a higher priority than defending Philippine sovereign rights? “As of now, if we compare the Aquino administration strategy and the Duterte strategy, we simply are making do with a bad situation but we have stopped the bleeding.” Only someone who sees the strain in bilateral relations because of the filing and the winning of the case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration as more important than the actual legal victory itself would think that the Philippines was in “a bad situation” post-July 12, 2016.
The exact opposite is true: Our side in the dispute with China was never stronger than on the day the arbitral tribunal issued an award that was an almost complete vindication of Philippine claims. Only someone who thinks that pleasing China meets a greater public interest than enforcing the legal victory so painstakingly won at The Hague would say that, today, “we have stopped the bleeding.” There is a term for this, and it is appeasement.
The foreign secretary makes the situation worse, undermines even further the Philippine position regarding its own rights to the West Philippine Sea and its jurisdiction over parts of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, by adopting the Chinese perspective hook, line, and sinker. “Yes, we want to fight for what is ours but we don’t want a war. And no one in our region wants a war because no one will win.” This is the Chinese view, that the only alternative to settling the disputes is through a war. This is simply not true; it is also, essentially, un-Filipino. Which makes us ask: Whose interests does the Honorable Alan Peter Cayetano, secretary of foreign affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, really represent?
There is an alternative to war, and that is the process which the Philippines helped set up: a regime of international law governing maritime and territorial disputes. That is the process which the Philippines won, despite China’s bullying and its demonization of the international law system. That is the process which allows smaller countries an almost equal footing with the great powers. And that is the process which, unaccountably, this administration’s lawyers shortchange, subvert, sell out.
Consider these words of wisdom from Cayetano: “China has not asked us, and I can tell you this very honestly whether closed door or in open, they have never asked us to give up our claims. They have simply asked us to put some order in how we will discuss these claims and where we should discuss these claims.” He speaks, not as a public servant of the Filipino people, but the servant of the Chinese government.
Assume for the sake of argument that what Cayetano said is in fact the case; why should we follow China’s proposed order in discussing our rights? Indeed, why should our foreign secretary mindlessly repeat the Chinese line that our claims are still in dispute—when the arbitral tribunal has already and convincingly ruled in our favor? (Let Beijing say these are mere claims; Manila should assert them as vindicated rights.) Even more to the point: Why privilege what China wants (“China has not asked us …”)? The real question is: What does the Philippines ask, when it meets with China?
If it’s only money, through expensive loans or dubious investments, then we really should all
worry that Beijing has landed military cargo aircraft on Mischief or Panganiban Reef. We are trading our sovereign rights, inch by inch, for the proverbial filthy lucre.
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