Experts urge Philippines to publicize protests vs China

MANILA, Philippines – Experts urged the Philippines to publicize its diplomatic protests against China's moves in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), as it was not enough for Manila to silently file a note verbale against Beijing.

In an email to Rappler on Thursday evening, May 31, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) director Gregory Poling stressed the need to subject China to international pressure.  

"The only way China might be convinced to bring its claims into accordance with international law and treat fairly with its neighbors is if international pressure – diplomatic and economic – convinces it that there are costs to its current strategy," Poling said, when sought for comment. 

"Quietly passing notes to Beijing and refusing to acknowledge Chinese harassment publicly doesn't help increase that pressure," he added.

Poling, also a fellow of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed out that "the last two years have proven that Beijing is not going to respond to this quiet 'trust building' effort."

"All the Duterte government has gotten for its trouble is increased Chinese military deployments, continuing harassment of Filipino troops and economic activities in its waters, promises of investment that haven't yet materialized, and talks about a code of conduct and joint development that seem to be going nowhere," Poling said. 

Rappler asked Poling about his thoughts on how the Philippines should file its diplomatic protests against China.

Poling replied, "The format really isn't material. What matters is that Philippine objections be made public to help pressure Beijing to change its ways and to support like-minded states like Vietnam, who are doing the same."

Silent note verbale

Poling answered these questions after Rappler reported on Thursday, May 31, that the Philippines silently filed a note verbale against China over a list of incidents in the West Philippine Sea.

The note verbale included China's installation of missiles in the Spratlys, insiders said.

It also reportedly covered a Chinese navy chopper's alleged harassment of a Philippine Navy rubber boat on May 11, when the Philippines was resupplying its troops in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). 

The note verbale was tackled in a confidential meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte, Cayetano, and Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Santa Romana, according to a source privy to the meeting. 

Cayetano had said in a congressional hearing on Wednesday, May 30, that the Philippines has filed 50 to 100 diplomatic protests for the past two years, but not all in the form of notes verbale.

Cayetano also stressed Manila's policy not to publicize its protests against Beijing, from which the Southeast Asian country is seeking economic benefits. He said the Philippines is "doing it the Duterte way, which is traditional building of trust through diplomacy."

Diplomatic protests 'must be in written form'

In another interview on GMA News, security expert Rommel Banlaoi also said that it is better if the Philippine government publicizes its diplomatic protests.

"May mga bagay na 'di muna kailangang isapubliko, lalo na kung kasalukuyang nine-negotiate. Pero 'yung mga sa tingin nilang makakapagkalma sa pagdududa ng mamamayang Pilipino ay dapat maisapubliko 'yan," Banlaoi said. 

(There are things that we cannot publicize yet, especially those under negotiations. But we should publicize those that we think can calm the doubts of the Filipino public.)

In a statement, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano criticized Cayetano for "redefining" diplomatic protests.

Cayetano said a negative verbal comment, for example, can be considered a diplomatic protest. 

"If for Secretary Cayetano simple utterances of words are already considered diplomatic protest, then what is its difference to writing on water?" Alejano said.

He then stressed that a diplomatic protest "must be in written form."

"A diplomatic protest puts on record our stand on a certain matter. It goes without saying that a diplomatic protest must be in written form. A formal written protest will serve as historical records of how we responded to every violation committed to us by other states," Alejano said.

"Let us not weaken its value," the lawmaker added.

Alejano, a former Marine officer, earlier criticized the Duterte administration for not giving a "clear answer" regarding the actions it took on the Ayungin Shoal incident.

He said that the public "is still being left in the dark."

"If the Duterte administration wants the public to trust its approach in the West Philippine Sea, certain details meant for public consumption should be released," Alejano said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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