Alejano hits back at Cayetano: Chinese presence ‘means something’
Contrary to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s statement, Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano has insisted the alleged presence of Chinese vessels in disputed waters “means something.”
Alejano in a statement released Thursday called on Cayetano to be transparent as he stood by his claim that Chinese vessels have massed up near the inhabited Pag-asa Island and even blocked a government ship from approaching it.
The day before, Cayetano played down Alejano’s statement: “The presence of ships alone does not mean anything.”
Cayetano also said it would be “alarmist” to “keep looking at China as the enemy,” and took a swipe at Alejano: “There’s a thin line between informing us and stirring up the situation.”
Without confirming or denying it, he simply said: “There is no situation there that is a cause of lowering of trust among the [South China Sea] claimants at this point in time.”
But, the opposition lawmaker expressed disbelief at Cayetano, who described the Duterte government’s foreign policy tactic as that of deescalation.
“Have we already adopted the strategy of silence, inaction, and subservience in West Philippine Sea so as not to offend China?” Alejano said, using a label asserting Philippine maritime rights over its adjoining piece of the South China Sea.
Cayetano had shot back that Alejano never expressed concern about the United States doing freedom of navigation patrols over the disputed seas, precisely because it is seen as an ally.
However, Alejano said US activities are “not even comparable” because it is “unlike China which has the history of grabbing islands and harassing our fishermen.”
Right after Cayetano’s press conference, the House’s West Philippine Sea committee held an executive session on Wednesday afternoon.
That evening, Alejano delivered a privilege speech calling on the Duterte government to “break their silence with regard to the repeated incursions perpetuated by China.”
“I call on the Philippine government officials to be transparent in what is happening in the West Philippine Sea. We must assert our rights in the midst of talks with China,” he said in the House plenary.
He added that the Duterte government should ensure that even as the country recently receives big-ticket economic and infrastructure deals, rights over the disputed waters are not being forfeited.
Pag-asa, one of the disputed islands currently occupied by the Philippines, is home to a far-flung civilian community with a population of 184 as of the 2015 census. It is located 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City.
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