BUSAN - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's administration is willing to endure criticism that it is too soft on China if this facilitates a peaceful resolution to the two countries' competing claims in the South China Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Thursday (Aug 31).
"We can continue to fight for our rights without armed conflict or without escalating the arguments. So every now and then there are irritants and there are real issues and we're taking the diplomatic action, but it doesn't mean that we confront each other in front of the media each and every time because it doesn't create the atmosphere of dialogue, but it also doesn't mean that the government is giving up our rights or is not fighting for it," Mr Cayetano told The Philippine Star.
Mr Cayetano was speaking on the sidelines of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) meeting at Nurimaru APEC House in Busan.
He claimed that the government's strategy was already "bearing fruits", highlighting a tentative fishing agreement that allowed Filipinos to fish in the disputed Panatag, or Scarborough, Shoal.
"So fishermen are a good example, from fishing not being allowed and from intimidation by different navies now there's a tentative fishing agreement and we're starting to move to have the coast guard than the navy ships there," Mr Cayetano said. "So the bottom line is if your strategy is bearing fruit and you're going towards your objective you don't change course, right?"
Admitting that the strategy was "not perfect", Mr Cayetano nevertheless said it was building on the gains made by the previous administration of president Benigno Aquino III.
"You do have to protect your own interest so we do not judge the past administration for the actions it took. We believe that in that point in time that was the right action, so we have to build on their gains," he said. "I just want to assure our people that we are protecting our interest."
He said the Philippines has always fought for its territory, but made "sacrifices" to ensure a peaceful solution.
"They did not sacrifice the territory but we've always made sacrifices so there's a peaceful resolution of a conflict or disagreements," he said.
The Asian Maritime Transparency Institute in Washington recently published photos showing continuing land reclamation by China in the contested waters.