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How many diplomatic actions were taken vs China? Cayetano says they haven’t counted

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By Xave Gregorio

After making repeated assertions that the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte has made “50 to 100” diplomatic actions related to China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano admitted in a Senate hearing that his department has not yet counted how many actions they have taken.

Responding to questions raised by opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros during the hearing on the proposed Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) 2019 budget Tuesday (August 28), Cayetano said, “Honestly, we haven’t counted, but we’re giving you the assurance that each and every incident, we take the appropriate diplomatic action.”

Hontiveros pressed Cayetano for clarification on his earlier statement in a House probe on the West Philippine Sea, where he told congressmen that the government has made “50 to 100” diplomatic actions related to the sea row with China.

She also brought up a June press statement of the DFA, where they vaguely stated that they have taken 89 diplomatic actions under Duterte, but did not specify to which country or countries were these directed and did not divulge the contents of the supposed protests.

“But Mr. Secretary, can you at least give some general idea to the committee. So you are confirming that there are 50 to 100? How many were in the form of notes verbal? How many were diplomatic démarches?” she asked.

Cayetano later said that the number of the diplomatic actions taken against China is not important, as they are pursuing a “purpose-driven foreign policy.” He did not elaborate on what this meant.

When pressed further, Cayetano made a turnaround and said that the DFA can count how many note verbales have been filed against China in a closed-door session.

Hontiveros and other opposition solons have been doubting Cayetano’s assertion that the Philippines has taken up to 100 diplomatic actions against China.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano has even countered Cayetano’s claim, alleging that the Philippines has only filed a single note verbale against China, which was supposedly brought to the residence of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua.

Cayetano broadly defines diplomatic protests to include mere verbal reminders from Duterte to Chinese President Xi Jinping and from him to his Chinese counterpart.

“I explained to them (the House) that when the President talked to President Xi, that is a protest. When I talk to my counterpart and tell them, that is a protest. When I file a note verbale, and depende, if you put three items there, you’re protesting three items,” Cayetano told senators.

He also reiterated that they are not announcing that they have filed diplomatic protests against China, unlike the previous administration, as it is not part of their strategy.

“It’s not our strategy now to keep announcing that because we are getting results,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano yet again harped on the “improvements” in the West Philippine Sea and boasted that the Philippines has regained “full control” of the Scarborough Shoal.

In June, Cayetano told reporters that the Philippines and China “co-controls” Scarborough Shoal.

The Foreign Affairs Secretary also said that while they have received complaints from fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, they have also received “many stories” of Chinese coastguards “helping” them.

“We’re not saying now that the situation there is ideal. We’re saying that we’re making good of a bad situation,” Cayetano said.