"Don't offend China."
According to former Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr., this seems to be the primary concern of the Duterte administration judging by its response to the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank as well as the deportation of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario in Hong Kong.
"It seems to me that what they are more concerned about is not to offend China. We've seen that already on 2 occasions," Cuisia told ANC.
Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were abandoned by a Chinese crew that hit their boat on June 9, prompting the Philippines to file a diplomatic protest. They were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
Manila and Beijing have agreed to conduct a joint investigation on the incident as critics continue to cast doubts on the would-be results.
President Rodrigo Duterte has told the 22 Filipino fishermen that the Philippines cannot retaliate against China.
“Well, I’m sorry, but that is how it is,” Duterte said, addressing the 22 Filipino fishermen directly.
“Kung gusto mong gumanti na doon, that is not…that is not a reason to go into any military exercise there. Kapag ginawa mo 'yan, giyera 'yan,” he said.
Hong Kong has also denied entry to del Rosario, the Philippines' former top diplomat, last Friday.
In response, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that it will cancel all courtesy diplomatic passports following what happened to Del Rosario.
In the interview, Cuisia said that while he recognizes that the granting of a diplomatic passport is a privilege, he still does not understand the reasoning behind the decision.
He said that instead of focusing on what happened to del Rosario, the Philippine government focused on the alleged misuse of diplomatic passports.
"Clearly our government was more careful about not offending Chinese authorities," he said.
Cuisia noted Del Rosario's deportation is a form of retaliation since the former foreign affairs chief is a known critic of Chinese incursions in the disputed South China Sea and has also filed a case against President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court.
He said Del Rosario's proposal that the Philippines should detain a Chinese diplomat will not happen since Del Rosario is also a critic of the Duterte government.
"Considering he has been critical, I am sure this administration will not do that. They will not follow the suggestion," he said.
"If it was the other way around, China would do that. I'm sure, 100 percent they would do that to retaliate. Let's say we detain a Chinese diplomat, they will get back [at] us by detaining a Filipino diplomat just to send the right message," he added.
On the Recto Bank incident, he said the Philippines would be at a huge disadvantage if it pushes through with a joint investigation with China.
"First of all I don't understand why would it be up to China? I think it is up to us and I think we should reject the proposal for a joint investigation...Obviously they will just bully us as they have done in the past," he said.
Even the behavior of some Cabinet officials, he said, shows that the administration is very cautious about offending China.
"They don't want to offend China. If you have that situation, you are not going to say something or come out with a result that may not be pleasing to China. Why would we even allow it in the first place?" he said.
Cuisia said the Philippines' arbitral victory against China clearly states that Recto Bank is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. "Why were they there in the first place in the exclusive economic zone? They are saying it is freedom of navigation, that's not correct. You only do freedom of navigation in international waters. They should have asked for permission," he said.
He also commended Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin for coming out with a statement in the United Nations headquarters, saying that it is a felony to abandon anyone in need.
"He came out with a very strong statement in that regard," he said.