Cayetano: PH taking diplomatic tack in recent Chinese moves in S. China Sea

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano speaks on the ban after welcoming Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa back to the country.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 6) — The country's top diplomat said the government was moving quietly to challenge Beijing's recent actions in the South China Sea so it was unfair for critics to say that nothing was being done to resolve the matter.

In a press briefing on Saturday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the administration had opted to take the diplomatic approach as the country cannot go to war with China.

"Diplomatic action is the general term: it can include protest, it can include bilateral consultative mechanism, it can include note verbale, it can include a phone call MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to MOFA. But we don't discuss details because that's the way diplomacy should be done," he explained on Saturday.

Cayetano's statement comes amid reports that Beijing had installed missile systems in the South China Sea, which is claimed by six countries.

READ: China may have deployed missile systems in S. China Sea – U.S. official

He said the Philippines can't solve the issue alone as there are many stakeholders involved.

"It's not just between the Philippines and China: it's between China and the neighbors in the region; it's between the claimants and the non-claimants; and it's between the claimants and the non-regional players," Cayetano said.

Cayetano stressed the need to rush a legally-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea to define accepted activities and behavior in the contested waters.

The Foreign Affairs Secretary spoke up in the wake of reactions to President Rodrigo Duterte's earlier statement blaming former President Benigno Aquino III for allowing a military build-up in the South China Sea.

READ: Duterte says U.S., ex-Pres. Aquino allowed military build-up in S. China Sea

In a speech in Davao Friday, Duterte said Aquino failed to confront China with the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, erroneously saying that Aquino was still in office when the ruling came out.

"So Aquino filed an arbitration case. We won. He was still there. Bakit hindi niya ginawa kung 'yan talaga ang gusto ng 'yan silang mga yellow. Nanalo kayo. Nandiyan pa si Aquino, not so many months there. Bakit hindi niyo pinuntahan at sinita?" Duterte demanded.

[Translation: So Aquino filed an arbitration case. We won. He was still there. Why did he not attend to it if the yellows wanted it so much? You won, Aquino was still there. Why did you not head there and call them out?]

Cayetano said, "Ang sinasabi niya kasi, 'yung UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) naman pare-pareho naman ng signatory. So noong nag-start naman ng massive building at reclamation noong panahon ni President Aquino and despite 'yung noise and 'yung sabi ng mga Allies na sa inyo UNCLOS, wala naman silang ginawang aksyon doon except makipagsigawan para pigilan ito. Sinisisi natin kay Pangulong Duterte ang mga naganap during President Aquino's time."

[Translation: He was saying the UNCLOS had the same signatories. So when the massive building and reclamation during President Aquino's time and despite the noise and Allies saying the UNCLOS was yours, they did nothing but have shouting matches to stop it. We are blaming President Duterte for things that happened during President Aquino's time.]

Cayetano said the current administration would employ a different strategy to resolve the issue, focusing on cooperation and diplomacy, given the complexities of the situation.

CNN Philippines Triciah Terada, Pia Garcia, and Chad De Guzman contributed to this report.