Cayetano: Duterte won't squander arbitral victory over China

Christian Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2017 01:49 AM

PHNOM PENH--President Rodrigo Duterte's incoming foreign secretary assured the public Wednesday his administration would not squander the Philippines' landmark arbitral victory that rejected the basis of Beijing's sweeping claims over the South China Sea.

The Philippines is set to hold bilateral talks on the maritime dispute with China this month with "mutual trust" and "no conditions," said Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who was named to the post shortly before Duterte left for Cambodia.

Cayetano did not say whether last year's ruling by the Hague-based arbitration court would be mentioned in the talks.

But he insisted Duterte was meeting his objectives and was making "a giant step forward."

"Walang masasayang sa past efforts. Lahat ng past efforts--from President Marcos and even before, to President Aquino's--wala tayong sasayangin," Cayetano told reporters here.

"Ibig sabihin, bawat bala na binigay sa atin na pabor sa Pilipinas, nandiyan 'yan. Sabi nga lang ni Presidente, give him the option, kung kailan ilalabas, kailan niya gagamitin, and we will follow that."

Cayetano will assume his role as Duterte's chief diplomat at a time when the president has been criticized for foreign policy, especially the dispute over the vital trade route.

Duterte's so-called "pivot to China" has generated billions of dollars in promised investments and economic assistance from the world's second biggest economy.

But some experts fear the Philippines might be losing its leverage after the president opted to set aside the arbitral ruling for now.

A statement last month by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, led by the Philippines as summit chair, removed all reference to China's militarization and island-building in the disputed waters.

This was seen as a victory for China, which reportedly lobbied against including its arbitration defeat in the regional bloc's statement.

As foreign secretary, Cayetano said he would move away from "microphone diplomacy," but would "institutionalize" off-the-record briefings with congressional leaders, think tanks, and media.

"There's a lot of things about diplomacy that you cannot use the microphone," he said. "You'll hear more from the spokesman and much, much less from me."