MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the Philippines cannot file a protest against China's bombers in the South China Sea because these aircraft landed outside Philippine territory.
In a press conference at around 10 pm on Friday, June 1, Cayetano referred to the bombers' distance from the Philippines. The bombers landed on the Paracel Islands, which China seized from Vietnam in 1974.
The Philippines has no claim over the Paracels, but the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said that "nearly all of the Philippines falls within the radius of the bombers."
Cayetano argued: "Sinasabi nila, kasi 'yung radius nu'ng bombers, abot tayo. Pero du'n pinalipad at nag-land sa hindi natin territory. So paano tayo magpo-protest sa hindi natin territory?"
(They're saying the radius of the bombers covers the Philippines. But it was flown over and it landed outside our territory. So how can we protest about something beyond our territory?)
Cayetano said the Philippines can file a protest but only in a multilateral setting, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In ASEAN, member-countries act by consensus and speak in one voice.
"Puwede mo gawin 'yon sa multilateral. So sa multilateral, sa ASEAN, 'di ba, we join our ASEAN brothers in the statement (You can do that in a multilateral setting. In a multilateral setting, in ASEAN, we join our ASEAN brothers in the statement)," Cayetano said.
"Pero 'yung ipo-protest mo 'yung hindi mo territory, at hindi mo kine-claim, it's quite ridiculous. Natatawa 'yung mga professionals at saka mga experts sa gano'n," Cayetano claimed.
(But for you to protest about something beyond your territory, something you do not claim, it's quite ridiculous. Professionals and experts find that funny.)
North Korea missiles beyond Philippines, too
The Philippines, however, earlier condemned moves by other nations beyond Philippine shores, such as North Korea's missile tests alarming the region.
Even if the missile tests happened beyond Philippine territory, Cayetano repeatedly slammed North Korea on his own – and outside a multilateral setting such as ASEAN.
The Philippine military had said there was only a "remote chance" that debris from a possible North Korean missile strike near Guam would reach the Philippines.
"Nearly all of the Philippines falls within the radius of the bombers, including Manila and all 5 Philippine military bases earmarked for development under the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement," the AMTI said.
The Philippines earlier said it will not publicly condemn China over the landing of bombers in the South China Sea, stressing it was not its policy to "publicize every action" it takes.
Carpio, Del Rosario say protest needed
Vice President Leni Robredo, on the other hand, said the landing of Chinese bombers in the South China Sea was alarming.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario meanwhile urged the Philippines to file a protest over these bombers.
"Failure to formally protest means the Philippines is acquiescing or consenting to the militarization, and worse, to the claim of China that all the islands, waters, and resources within the 9-dash line form part of Chinese territory," Carpio said.
The Philippines claims part of the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea. An international ruling in 2016 asserted the Philippines' rights over these waters, but the Duterte administration chooses to downplay the Hague ruling to get economic benefits from Beijing.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org