DFA Chief: Verbal, written protests have the same weight

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  • Cayetano estimates over 50 oral, written protests
  • Alejano questions Cayetano's definition of a diplomatic protest
  • Analyst: PH needs note verbale, issued statement
  • DFA maintains PH still patrols West Philippine Sea

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 15) — Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Cayetano insists the 'dozens and dozens' of written and oral protests they filed with China hold the same weight.

"Honestly, I didn't count," Cayetano told CNN Philippines' The Source. "More than fifty definitely."

"[In] diplomacy, a verbal and a written [protest] have the same standing," he added.

Cayetano said he raised the protests in various bilateral and multilateral meetings with China, including the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) created specifically to resolve disputes in the contested waters.

"For example, [in the BCM], we've had three already. So when we're talking and then we say, 'We're protesting this, protesting this, protesting this. Ilang protest iyon? Doon tayo liniligaw ng mga critics [How many protests is that? That's where the critics confuse us]," Cayetano said.

When asked what the nature of these protests were, Cayetano did not elaborate.

Opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano earlier said Cayetano is redefining the term "diplomatic protest," insisting they should be formally filed in "written form."

Books on diplomacy, however, say these communications may be oral or in writing, with varying levels of severity.

One of the protests filed was related to the tensions between the Chinese Coast Guard and Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal in May.

"We had several communications with the Chinese on this and they're now investigating," Cayetano claimed.

He then slammed lawmakers who urge the DFA to issue stronger, more visible protests.

"When I became Secretary of foreign Affairs, I told the media we will not announce specific diplomatic actions because we will not engage in microphone or megaphone diplomacy," he said.


Not a numbers game

Political analyst Richard Heydarian, also an assistant professor in international relations, believes Cayetano's "quiet diplomacy" does not match the urgency of the concerns in the West Philippine Sea.

"The tradition is that if something major happens, you file a note verbale, [and] you make a strong statement," said Heydarian. "Even more important than that note verbale is the issued statement to the public."

Despite the absence of the note verbale and the statement, Heydarian clarified Cayetano is not redefining the diplomatic protest.

"He (Cayetano) is trying to say that a more mild version of a diplomatic protest is sufficient. It's a question of sufficiency than a recategorization," he said.

Heydarian deems the language of the protests more important than the frequency with which they are verbally raised.

"This whole counting game is almost preposterous," said Heydarian. "This is not a numbers game. This is a quality game. And this is a question of drawing the line in the sand — or in the water in this case."

DFA: Patrols still on

Cayetano also maintained that the Philippines was still continuing patrols in disputed waters, contrary to Alejano's accusations.

The lawmaker last week claimed he received classified information that the Malacanang Palace ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to desist in conducting patrols in the West Philippine Sea. Alejano said they met halfway after the military contested.

"The compromise was to patrol once a month in order for the AFP to still perform its mandate. However, even this is hardly observed as there have been instances that more than a month had already passed and not a single patrol is conducted," said Alejano.

Cayetano said Alejano's claim was "a complete lie" and that the Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy were all patrolling in the area.

"Talk is cheap. So ako, kung tama sinasabi niyo [if what you're saying is true], not only will I resign, I won't run ever and won't accept any appointment," said Cayetano. "But are you willing to do the same?"