Cayetano to speak less in public as DFA chief

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Incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano promises to refrain from engaging in "microphone diplomacy"

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 11) — People will be hearing less from Senator Alan Peter Cayetano once he formally takes on the job as Foreign Affairs Secretary.

After hearing news of his appointment to the Cabinet on Wednesday, Cayetano revealed some of his plans before a press briefing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He was part of President Rodrigo Duterte's delegation in his working visit there.

Cayetano promised to refrain from talking too much in public, saying it is not fit for diplomats to engage in "microphone diplomacy."

"After this… you'll hear more from the spokesman and much, much less from me because we will not use microphone diplomacy," Cayetano said.

He admitted it would be a challenge for him because "politicians like microphones" and he has been used to addressing the public on various issues.

However, Cayetano said he wants to institutionalize off-the-record briefings with the Philippine media, the Congress, and even advocacy groups and think tanks.

These are meant to shed light on the country's strategies as the President continues to push for an independent foreign policy, Cayetano said.

"Because sometimes, kulang ng impormasyon (there's lack of information). But when we do those briefings, it's with the understanding that there are things that are not for broadcast," Cayetano said.

"Eh saan ka naman makakakita na nasa gitna ka ng struggle, ng laban, ipapakita mo 'yung strategy sa buong mundo 'no," Cayetano said. 

[Translation: "When you are in the middle of a struggle or war, you don't show off your strategy to the rest of the world."]

Cayetano's appointment comes a day after the one-year ban to appoint losing candidates in last year's elections. Cayetano was Duterte's running mate.

He will replace Perfecto Yasay, who was rejected by the Commission on Appointments last March for lying under oath and failing to declare his U.S. citizenship in 1986. Undersecretary Enrique Manalo took over the post in an acting capacity.

South China Sea

Cayetano said the DFA under his leadership will "keep building bridges" with other countries upon the orders of the President. He cited how Duterte established good relations with U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Asked if the President's friendlier relations with the Chinese government could jeopardize the country's claims in the South China Sea, Cayetano assured that the government is doing all it can to assert the Philippines' sovereign rights.

He said efforts of previous administrations will not go to waste.

It was during the leadership of former President Benigno Aquino III in July 2016 that the Philippines won a landmark ruling at The Hague against China's claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

Read: What you need to know about the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling

Cayetano said he's not sure if the government would mention the arbitral ruling in the upcoming bilateral talks with China this month.

PH, China to start maritime row talks in May

"Sabi nga lang ni Presidente (The President said), give him the option kung kailan niya ilalabas, kailan niya gagamitin (when he will bring it up). And we will follow the President," Cayetano said.

President Duterte has promised to bring the ruling up with China during his term.

Cayetano refused to go into details on how he plans to deal with the country's maritime row with China, but Cayetano said Filipinos should quit what he calls a "One China Policy."

"One thing that is not being emphasized is that our claims are not only against China," Cayetano said.

He said other claimant countries "are also building" in the disputed islands but the media only reports the aggressiveness of China. "But we're taking care of that," Cayetano said.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also have competing claims in the South China Sea.

Senator Cayetano

Meanwhile, Cayetano dispelled fears Duterte would lose a staunch defender when he leaves his post at the Senate.

"The President is in good hands in the present Senate," Cayetano said.

He said Duterte's legislative agenda will be pushed for by the remaining solons, led by Senate President Koko Pimentel, who is also leader of the ruling PDP-Laban party.

Related: Pimentel urges PDP-Laban: Protect Duterte

Cayetano is chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations.

He said he will continue to serve as Senator until the Commission on Appointments confirms his nomination as DFA chief.

His fellow senators have expressed optimism he will be confirmed by the powerful CA.

Senator Francis Escudero in a forum on Thursday said the Congress would then have to pass a law allowing a special election to choose Cayetano's replacement.

Prior to his appointment, Cayetano led the Philippine delegation to the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland where he defended the country's war on drugs - together with Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

Also read: Incoming foreign secretary willing to be jailed if PH human rights presentation is inaccurate