FOREIGN AFFAIRS Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano on Monday said the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China “co-control” the disputed West Philippine Sea, particularly the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal, adding that Filipinos are now “free” to fish there despite the now widely-reported incident involving China Coast Guard members reportedly taking the catch of Filipino fishermen.
“I believe at this point in time, may co-control tayo, because malaya na tayong pumupunta (we now have co-control, because we are now free to go there),” Mr. Cayetano told reporters, as shown in video reports by CNN, ABS-CBN and other media.
He added: “But definitely, before President Duterte came in, it was controlled by the Chinese. Now, we can use semantics. Pwede tayong mag (We can) debate, how much control we have. How much hindi (How much is not) controlled. Ang masasabi ko lang (All I can say), our situation now is much, much better than two years ago. Could it be much, much better than today? Definitely. Do we want total control? Definitely. But the reality is matinding negotiations ang dadaanan natin dito (we have to go through intense negotiations).”
President Rodrigo R. Duterte, for his part, said on that occasion marking the Department of Foreign Affairs’ 120th anniversary: “Ilagay ko na lang muna ‘yung China diyan…Hindi ko naman talaga mabira-bira (I’ll just set aside China for now… I cannot criticize it). China is no pushover. You cannot scare [them]. And even the United States has shown a little bit of apprehension….”
The President also said the Philippines “will never go to a battle that it cannot win.”
“I am not prepared to sacrifice the lives of the Filipino people,” he said.
Asked if the President was pre-empting the results of the Chinese government’s ongoing investigation on the incident, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. on Tuesday said: “Hindi naman po siguro, kasi ang sabi nga ng Presidente, barter pero walang pagkakasundo sa valuation (Maybe not, because the President said it was barter, but there was no agreement on the valuation). So, hindi po siya talagang (it was not a) perfected contract of barter.”
Mr. Cayetano, for his part, said in his speech: “We would like to assure the public that we are protecting every single square inch of our territory.”
“President Duterte, even before he won, knows independent foreign policy; he understands geopolitics,” he also said. — Arjay L. Balinbin