Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday urged the government to strengthen and simplify its strategy in dealing with issues on the West Philippine Sea, saying the latest skirmish with China as reported by the Philippine Coast Guard is just “a symptom” of a more complicated underlying problem.
“We should not tolerate any form of aggression. The issue [of the West Philippine Sea] is complicated, but let us simplify it,” Cayetano, who served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs during the Duterte administration, said on February 14, 2023.
On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard reported that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel twice directed a military grade laser-light toward the BRP Malapascua, forcing the latter to retreat from a resupply mission near Ayungin Shoal.
In response, the Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday condemned China’s “act of aggression” and filed a diplomatic protest for its coast guard’s use of laser glare that caused temporary blindness on the Filipino crew.
“Iyan pong nakikita natin na skirmishes at problema, iyan po ay mga sintomas,” Cayetano said. “Let us go to the heart of the problem and find a framework na mapag-usapan iyan.”
The independent senator noted that other countries that have dispute issues in the West Philippine Sea like Malaysia and Vietnam have already strengthened their national strategies, including diplomacy and strengthening their armed forces and alliances with other countries.
He said in contrast, the Philippines has been changing its policies with each new administration.
“Ang naging problema ng Pilipinas ay pabago-bago ang ating strategy. Every other administration ay hindi lang nagbabago ang strategy, pero may wild swings tayo. That’s the disadvantage,” he said.
The advantage, however, is that the country has already tried both approaches and can now move forward with a better perspective.
At the same time, Cayetano maintained that the government should assert itself in the West Philippine Sea and not tolerate aggression not just from China but other countries whose presence in the area is growing.
“Actually ang nakikita nila ay y’ung conflict natin with China. But y’ung lumalaki rin na presence, including military presence, of Malaysia and Vietnam is also concerning for me,” he said.
In drafting the national strategy, Cayetano said the government should deliberate on whether exercises with other countries in the West Philippine Sea really help or aggravate the situation here and in the long term.
“Ngayon, may usapan na ulit with the US. Hindi ko sinasabing tama o mali, good or bad. I am saying it changes the equation of the game. So if you are going to do that [joint exercises] with the US, you will have to have a mechanism in talking with the Chinese kasi kung hindi, maa-aggravate,” he said.
“Dito po sa ating side ng mundo, kailangan magkaroon ng strategy at usapan among allies,” he added.