A Conversation With Alan Peter Cayetano

Monday, October 2, 2017
Eduardo Muno/Reuters
Alan Peter Cayetano

Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines

Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano discusses the Philippines’ foreign policy strategy under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the country’s regional role in southeast Asia, and the relationship between the United States and the Philippines.

WISNER: Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Frank Wisner. I had the privilege of representing the United States as ambassador in the Philippines. And it is a tremendous honor and privilege today to be able to introduce to all of you the very distinguished new foreign secretary—secretary of foreign affairs of the Philippines, Secretary Cayetano. As he quickly reminded me when we came in, I had the privilege of knowing his father and I’m delighted to be able to introduce him to all of you.

The foreign secretary needs, from what you have read, very little introduction, except one point that I’d underscore. Having known many of your predecessors, Mr. Secretary, I’ve known few who have devoted their lives with such constancy and seriousness to the public service. As a man who has worked your way up from the grassroots of Philippine politics through the House of Representatives, to your election to the Senate, to your service to the Philippines as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, you represent the very best in Philippine politics. The principles you have stood for, your determination to struggle with the ever-present problems of corruption, I’m certain all harkened you to the attention of your president. And I’m delighted you are part of the Cabinet. You add particular tone and luster to the Cabinet.

I’m delighted you’re here now. The relationship between the United States and the Philippines is an enduring one, and of tremendous importance to my country and, I suspect, yours. And with those very few words of introduction, invite you, Mr. Secretary, to come take over the floor. You’re going to be delivering, if I understand it, remarks. And then I get to come back up and sit next to you and ask a few questions to get the discussion going. So, Mr. Secretary, welcome from on all our behalf.

CAYETANO: The Book of Mark reminds us that we cannot pour new wineskin—we cannot pour new wine into old wineskin, otherwise the wine will burst the skins and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskin. This reminds me of the concept we often hear from the Silicon Valley, which says that you cannot deal with 21st century challenges using analytical tools from the 20th century, then proposing 19th century solutions.

There’s no doubt that change and how to handle change is a challenge for the U.S., for the Philippines, for the world today. So it is with great pride and honor that I stand before you here today and thank you for the honor to be part of your work. And the biblical verse and the Silicon Valley analysis reminds me that the CFR studies deeply yesterday so that they can understand the problems, work hard today in finding solutions, so that we can have a better tomorrow. And it is in that light that I hope that I can play a small part and further U.S.-Philippine relationship being here with you today.

First, I’d like to greet Ambassador Frank Wisner, who’s very special to the Philippines. Many of you who have affiliations or fond memories of the country, and many of you have a lot of interest with our relationship and the relationship between ASEAN and the United States. But let me start by also expressing the Filipino people’s solidarity, condolences and sympathy. I know you’re still recovering from Harvey and from Irma. And we know first-hand how Irma devastated the area, because there were 100 Filipino in the British Virgin Islands. And you helped us by allowing us to land in Puerto Rico and get them out right before the next storm. So I know how devastating it is to wake up this morning or go to sleep last night and seeing the news about what happened in Las Vegas. So please accept our sympathies.

So when we talk about change, and when you talk wine and wineskin, I see the wine referring to change and the wineskin referring to the instrument, tools or mechanisms where you can put the change or use it for the change. And it is in this light that President Duterte, who under our constitution is the chief architect of the Philippine foreign policy, has decided to pursue a truly independent foreign policy for Filipinos by Filipinos, where we build bridges to places where once there were none. And what’s in your mind? A bridge to the other side of the river, as China scholar Edgar Snow put it.

Independent foreign policy is a tool for Filipinos. It’s also a guideline. It’s also the common denominator of all Filipinos abroad. And there’s been a lot of questions. What does the president mean, independent foreign policy? If you look at Article 2, Section 7 of the Philippine constitution, it will be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination. Those four factors will determine how the president implements the independent foreign policy. I know in your mind, wow, that’s a good constitution, good legalese, but after the president announced in China the separation from U.S., how does that apply to the independent foreign policy? I was thinking the same thing.

So as soon as he got on the plane and made himself comfortable, and the plane took off, I found the strength to go up to him and say: Mr. President, I feel no obligation at all to explain to any American your statement earlier, except to my mom who texted me, what’s going on, but tell the president I trust him. So he sat me down and, after a discussion, a few minutes, the other members of the Cabinet and the then-foreign secretary joined us. And the president was simply telling us: When our interests intersect or when we have the same interests with the U.S. or any other country, it’s a no-brainer. We go together. When the interest does not meet, meaning they have a different interest from us, then we have to make our own path. Sometimes we sacrifice, because that’s what foreign relations is all about. That’s what relationships are all about. It’s not always about you. It’s about we. It’s about us.

But his point is that he thinks the time is over when Filipinos are told or taught that anything that is of American interest is identical to Philippine interest. And that goes so with all the other countries, including our new friends and our old allies. So basically, we are revisiting relations, perhaps neglected or in need of reinvigoration, or sometimes maybe not neglected but maybe sometimes taken for granted as long relationships go. As humans, we sometimes forget those closest to us. We sometimes sacrifice first those closest to us. A foreign policy reaffirming partnership with our oldest and staunchest ally, such as its statesmen have wanted it, a partnership of the strong with those able to stand on their own without having to lean always on the stronger one.

That’s the other part of the foreign—of the independent foreign policy. We want to start standing on our own two feet. What good is the Philippines as an ally to the U.S. if we are always dependent upon you? But as a strong ally, standing on our own, we are more use to you and the American people. Republican President Trump recalled recently at the U.N. General Assembly what the Democratic President Truman founding vision of the U.N. was, which is a coalition if not of the strong at least of the capable of fending for themselves and defending their freedoms. There is no doubt that the destiny of the Philippines and the U.S. is intertwined. No two countries so far away are so alike—the Judeo-Christian tradition, love for democracy, love for justice and freedoms. You know, you transported the American DNA to the Philippines. So there’s no doubt of our long-term relationship. And there’s no doubt of our people-to-people relationship. And there’s no doubt that despite being in different parts of the world and far apart we do think alike and we do share common values.

But this is our foreign policy, as articulated by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, where the Filipino people’s interest comes before all others, as enshrined by the Filipino—as enshrined by our constitution. It’s not new. It was the policy of every Philippine president. It’s just a matter of how they implemented it, you know. And in Asia, especially when everyone was poor and then suddenly, you know, the newly industrialized countries and we started seeing Asia first, ASEAN first, Malaysia first, Philippines first. It sounded logical. But now, with America saying American first and then Philippines saying Filipino first, well, who’s first? So—but we know it’s somewhere in the middle. And we know what both presidents are talking about, talking about going down to the grassroots and looking at the core interests that will benefit their people.

And I do not think these two core interests is at odds. We can find common core interests or we can sacrifice in certain areas that are not part of our core interests that will benefit both the Filipino people, the United States of America, and ASEAN and our region in general. In doing so, we have in the past years sought to deepen our relations with new and old partners, maximizing realistic opportunities to benefit our people. In this policy context, certain questions necessarily arise. What happens to our relationship with some of our oldest friends? How do we balance developing closer relations with other countries while maintaining long times we continue to have with others? This question dawned on us, but it’s questions you ask yourself as members of CFR.

I was with the Asian Society more than a week ago. And I was reading their publications. And former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. They were very articulate in saying that the U.S. is the partner of choice of ASEAN when it comes to security and China is the partner of choice when it comes to economics. But more and more ASEAN countries are starting to think: Will there come a time that we’ll have to choose? That’s where your publication with the Lowy Institute comes in. There are very practical approaches in dealing with the China-U.S. competition. And there are very good recommendations or, if they’re not recommendations but pure statements, of where cooperation can come in and where we don’t have to choose, but where Americans continue to have a good defense system in the region, at the same time pursue its economic interest.

I’ll go to a specific or an example in a while, but when we take a new hand offered in friendship it might appear that we are turning our back on our old friends, or maybe on old friends that we have relied on, or maybe old friends that sometimes we feel do not grip our hand as hard as we want them to. But that is not really accurate, because, you know, foreign relations are not like a marriage, you know? It’s not like you can only have one wife. I’m happily married and I don’t even—I try not even to look, you know?

So when people say, but how can you be good friends with China when the U.S. is there? I said, we’re not married to the U.S. It’s not a sin to look at Russia, to look at China, to look at Lao PDR, to look at Thailand, to look at Australia. No, no, no, Australia, Korea, Japan is OK. They’ve been your friends and they’re U.S. allies. Well, we’re not also married to the alliance. We’re part of the alliance. And there is no talks whatsoever about defense treaties or military alliance with Russia or China, you know? It is simply the Philippines starting to engage our neighbors in our part of the world. And who of you here have not engaged, one way or another, your neighbors in your neighborhood?

In other words, a time for adult relationship between the Philippines and the United States. We turned 100 years a few years ago. And of course, that does not compare to your 19—your 1789 Constitution and more than 300 years of existence, but think of it as an adolescence. So Philippines is telling its parent, of its perceived parent in the past, that I’m 18. I want to go to college or I want to get a job, you know? So you’re still my dad. You’re still my mom. The respect is there, but don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me who to see, don’t tell me what time to go home. And of course, the parent replies, but, we love you.

So we do understand that criticisms of what happens in the Philippines is not out of sheer U.S. interest but because the U.S. feels that affinity as an older brother or as a parent to the Philippines. But like an adolescent, you know, you will welcome your son or daughter back to use your basement whether they’re 30, 40, or 50 years old. But who of you here will not teach them independence and teach them to go out on their own, you know, and learn how life—what life is all about? And that is a way I’d like to describe the present relationship. A little bit of bumps because we’re telling, you know, people we love that we want to make the decisions for ourselves. But with a little bit of space, I think we’ll find each other in the same company with the same values.

And like all lasting and deep partnerships, the Philippine-U.S. ties have endeavored to reflect the unique relationship between two countries so far apart in geography, yet so close in sentiment and values. So when I was asked: How will the Philippine-U.S. relationship grow? What if President Duterte does not come? And this was before the announcement that President Trump will be coming to the Philippines. And I said, with 10 million Filipinos abroad, we all believe in long-distance love affairs. And before you had to have face-to-face meetings, you know, for international relations—and still the best. But with technology now, you know, and with great people in the U.S. State Department, how can we not, you know, build a relationship despite the distance?

Yes, there are some issues that deserve discussion, deserve engagement more than discussion. One of them, of course, which I call the elephant in the room is the—is the drug war, or the campaign against drug. Another issue, which I call the eagle in the room, is the U.S.-Philippine relationship, which I’ve spent most of the time today. The third one is what I call the panda in the room, which is our relationship with China. Let me state, for the record, that there’s no change and we are, in fact, strengthening our territorial claim, our claim under UNCLOS, and any victory with the tribunal’s decision. We are strengthening our claim. We are simply changing the strategy when it comes to the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.

We were willing the people’s hearts and mind. We were winning the argument of the rule of law. We won the arbitration award. But China was winning the ground war, or they were inhabiting more of the features than we were. And to be fair to China, it was not only China. Some of our other neighbors, because it is overlapping claims—Malaysia, Vietnam—were also more aggressive than the Philippines. But we want peace in our neighborhood. So when President Xi and President Duterte met, they came up with a consensus, which is to have the status quo, for China not to move forward on any of the uninhabited features, and for the Philippines to do the same, and to get ASEAN back on track on talking of the COC.

So it is not true that we have backed off or that we have given up on our claims. We have simply moved where the diplomats should be, which is in the back room talking it out, rather than on the microphones and shouting at each other. I’m not saying that there are not times—Ambassador Wisner will be here to say that there are times that you do need to take the microphone and you do need to have a big club with you when you speak. But we feel that in dealing with the regional security, peace and stability, we have made solid grounds in the last year. And we’re not being too naïve, but we’re also not being too close-minded in finding a middle ground with our ASEAN neighbors vis-à-vis the South China Sea.

Yes, we have engaged much more on the economic front. And there have been warnings of the debt trap. But we have also been very careful. We have an excellent economic team led by Secretary Diokno, Secretary Pernia of the NEDA, and one of the president’s best friend, and a man I greatly admire, Secretary Sonny Dominguez. And Secretary Dominguez just announced a few days ago that the World Bank will do the loan with the AIIB. And we have announced transparency measures so that the ABB and AIIB and other loans in the Philippines will be open to all.

And while, honestly, given how the system works there, many of the projects can or will go to the Chinese or the Japanese, depending on who funded them, the decision of the economic team today is for them to construct the ports, the railways, the subways, et cetera. But we will bid our or we will apply our procurement law to operation maintenance or operation to ownership, which gives our other old friends big opportunities to do business in the Philippines, which is where I’d like to make the point about your publication with the Lowy Institute, where they were saying that why does it have to be China more economics and U.S. more security?

We’re not thinking of defense alliances with China, but they can be partners in anti-terrorism, anti-trafficking, anti-child pornography. They can be our partners in anti-narcotics. And they are starting to engage us, the Philippines, with that. I’m not that sure, ASEAN, if your publication is correct. In policy and concept, there is the engagement. But unlike the U.S., when we say there’s an engagement with the U.S., it goes down to the grassroot. It follows through. So, like, for example, homeland is working with the NBI and the local government where my wife is mayor, Tagulg City, on anti-child pornography. So you could see the agreement, you see the funding, you see the purpose, and then you have the actual implementation of the program.

And that’s one area where China can engage and that would help our part of the world and everyone else. You know, the—yes, if I read correctly, $700 billion for defense spending. But it seems like a huge amount, and it is a huge amount, but it’s a big world. So if you had help in Southeast Asia in the anti-terrorism, that’s also help to America partially because you’ll have to spend—send less troops, less resources, in our country. You’re doing a lot in anti-terrorism. You are a partner of choice, you know? But you can’t do it alone. You need people to help. And that is the same with economics.

I asked the chairman of the Basis Conversation Development Authority—so, many of you have affinity with the Philippines. You remember Clark and Subic. If I’m not mistaken, Ambassador, it’s the biggest bases outside the U.S., correct? Or biggest or second-biggest base, you know. And for the last 20 years, you know, we’ve been playing around with it, serious work. But we just couldn’t get it up and running as a new city. Now we have AECOM, one of the biggest companies in engineering and planning, a U.S. company, doing the master plan for the new Clark city. We have 33,000 hectares of land. And for the main new Clark city, almost 10,000 hectares. And you have the top Clark locators Texas Instrument of the U.S. Of course, you have Samsung of Korea, Yokohama of Japan, and Nanox LCD screens also of Japan.

And while we’re so focused on our own economy, when Admiral Harris visited President Duterte, and I had a few minutes with him before entering and was telling him about the excitement of Clark and Subic and the infrastructure being done and the new international airport in Clark, I said: You know, sir, if we get this done the next three, four years, this will be an example of how we can use and covert U.S. bases here in the Philippines. And he said, actually, if you can get it all done, it’ll be an example of how we can convert our we can put to good economic use all U.S. bases around the world. And it is true. And why can’t we work on that together? Why does it have to be security and values U.S., when it comes to economics China? You are most welcome. In fact, the Philippines is your one foot in the door in the ASEAN. And everyone knows that. There’s been no denial in the 50 years of ASEAN of the special relationship of the Philippines and the U.S. It’s just a matter of your wanting to do more as a community, people-to-people, as businessmen in the Philippines.

So let me wrap up, because I think I’m over time. Oh, so let me—let me end by just reiterating the—just reiterating, one, we want to continue to be a strong strategic partner of the U.S., not only in the area of security but in the area of trade, economics, and of democratic values. Two, we want to continue to engage the U.S. in areas of trade and economics, social economic cooperation, including business-to-business and people-to-people engagement.

And lastly, we want to assure our friends, our allies, we are fully committed to our international commitments with our partners, and in multilateral sphere. Among them, the U.N., the U.N. declaration—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, EDCA, VFA, mutual defense treaty, to name some. And maybe we don’t have enough time to discuss all of them, but please feel free to ask me any questions which you feel need explanation. And again, our gratitude—our people’s gratitude on this opportunity to address this prestigious institution and to do our small part in this world of making it safer and more peaceful for all of us. Magandang hapon, good afternoon to everyone. And thank you, again, Ambassador. (Applause.)

WISNER: Mr. Secretary, it is a privilege for me to be able to say thank you very much for a very candid picture of the way your president, your government look at the U.S.-Philippine relationship. So there will be many questions, but I will perhaps lead off with just a couple to get the discussion going.

You have now been in this country for several days.

CAYETANO: Two weeks.

WISNER: Two weeks. You’ll be here a big longer, and we hope you will come back regularly. But when you go back and you return to Malacanan, how will you assess the U.S.-Philippine relationship and its multiple levels? For, as you correctly pointed out, it’s more than two governments. It’s also a relationship between people. It’s a relationship with an economic dimension. How will you brief the president? How will you describe the relationship as you have come to hear it and discuss it during your visits in this country?

CAYETANO: Well, to use the same anecdote, I’d go back home and say, Mr. President, Philippines is free to go off to college. They’ll pay for our tuition. And we can use the basement any time we want to return home; you know, to use the anecdote.

Before I left, I did have a heart-to-heart talk with the president and I asked him, you know, where to go, what to do, what are the things we have to work out. And, you know, we all agree that it’s time we talk brass tacks. It’s time we talk about our core interests. But it’s also time that we show each other more respect and understanding.

I don’t blame the U.S. public and the Western media in criticizing the president in the area of human rights. But it is different when the State Department or U.S. Congress criticizes the Philippines, because we know that you have the best intelligence community in the world.

And we—I saw a State Department report before Ambassador Sung Kim came in, and it said that the president vowed violence on both the pushers and the users, which is absolutely not true, and which was translated from both Filipino and Bisaya. And there was no mention where he said that he will not take—he will not take action, stern action, decisive action, against abusive police.

So how could I blame a U.S. congressman or woman, U.S. senator—or senator from criticizing the Philippines or putting a hold to some of our funding if what they read is precisely what they see on television? It’s hard enough to receive, you know, the public clamor and how the media presents things, but more so in this.

But, Ambassador, my job will be much easier because the president was in Samar for the anniversary of Balangiga. And he made a public statement saying that you know how he feels about the U.S. and Philippine relationship. He has many American friends. And he believes that some of these historical misunderstandings are water under the bridge.

So how he described it is that they’re not our saviors, but they’re definitely good allies and friends. So, actually, it’s not me convincing the president. It’s really more me being a tool of further understanding and bridges for a misunderstood president and a misunderstood campaign against drugs and crime and corruption.

WISNER: No, I’m glad you put it that way. This relationship is rich because it’s complicated. It operates at so many levels. And it’s based on, as you have insisted rightly today, mutual respect. So it is more on our side than winning the trust and respect of the administration, but the signals you send to a broader American congressional and media public. And that, I’d like to think, we’ve got to work on a bit more.


WISNER: Let me move on, though, to a second subject that you touched on in your remarks, and that’s China. And I understood fully what you said about your need to vary your options, open your options.

Tell me how, then, under your new approach towards China—what is the strategy that you have for dealing with the issue of the South China Sea-West Philippine Sea and the islands that are in dispute? It’s one thing to open a dialogue with China on a basis of respect. But how actually do you move that dialogue forward to a point where you and China can live with the outcome?

CAYETANO: OK. Well, let me answer it in three quick parts. First, it’s that people feel that there is a tremendous swing towards China. While that might be true relatively, we did always have good relationship with China until the problem of the West Philippine Sea-South China Sea came about.

But the past administration, the pendulum swing was all the way against China from a gentleman’s—we have the UNCLOS; let’s file the arbitration case—to our ex-president, who is a friend and who I also admire, but I think it was wrong for him to call the Chinese Nazis.

So the relationship just went from rocky to bad to worse to I don’t want to have a relationship with you. And that’s just not possible, because we are close neighbors and there is a big ethnic Filipino-Chinese community, in the same manner that we cannot separate from America in the truest sense of the world. We have 3.5 million Fil-Ams here and so much American interest and love back in the Philippines.

So that’s the first point. You know, if you feel it’s a wild swing of the pendulum, it’s really meant to put us back in the middle. You know, so if you have a wild swing to the right, you have to have the wild swing to the left to get it back to go in the middle.

Secondly, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about, you know, China has a national plan, a regional plan, a world plan. China has a five-year plan, a 10-year plan, a 25-year plan, a 100-year plan. China has a maritime-security plan. So my question is, why criticize them? Why don’t we come up with our own? Where is the Philippine-ASEAN or Philippine-U.S. 10-year plan, 25-year plan, 100-year plan? Where is our maritime-security planning?

And it’s not as if it’s something new. Japan and China went through the same process. And when Japan realized that they have to take maritime issues to a very high level with maritime security, maritime—protection of maritime—of marine resources, whether living or not, you know, it changed the whole equation for Japan and allowed them to deal with China, you know. But that was not happening in the Philippines.

So third is the short term. So in the short term it’s really, you know, a gentleman’s agreement, a shake of the hands between President Duterte and President Xi Jinping, and then how the diplomats and the rest of the bureaucracy will implement it. So the first part of the agreement is let’s stay where we are. Whatever islands you have or whatever features you have, of course, you can’t just unilaterally tell them to stop, but no unilateral surprises by anyone—not by Vietnam, not by Malaysia, not by the Philippines, not by Brunei. But we can only talk about the Philippines. You know, Malaysia, Vietnam, they’re sovereign nations. They’re part of ASEAN. We decide as a group. But they also have their own national interests and direction, you know.

So the Philippines, personally, while the other claimants are building much more on their features, we would rather spend our money on books, on education, on health, and infrastructure. So we are in search of a longer-term solution. But we are here now trying to calm everything down and stop aggressiveness on all sides so that we can talk first about the COC.

Now, question: Will the COC and all of this hurt U.S. interests? No. U.S. interest, declared interest, is freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, and the right to lay submarine cables. And all of this, you know, is part of UNCLOS and will be part of the COC.

So I think, you know, it’s really the rivalries, if I may say so very bluntly, are something—are sometimes getting in the way of the analysis of the relationships. Yes, we cannot be too naïve. Yes, there are dangers, you know. But if we don’t engage, it’ll be a more dangerous region.

And if it’s getting to the point of danger—let me put it another way. When President Aquino started the arbitration (award ?), some of our American friends, officially or unofficially, were saying do this, fight for the rule of law, but don’t go too hard against China. Why? Because no one wants a war. No one wants it to escalate to a point that there will be actual conflict, because actual conflict does not benefit anyone, you know.

But somewhere along the way the strategy just became too good versus China, but it became not productive for the Philippines in several aspects; very positive in the aspect of the rule of law and winning the case, but on the ground, with our economy, with our people and our reputation in ASEAN, because we have the reputation of, you know, forgiving and forgetting. The Japanese are brothers and sisters to us. Way beyond—way before the Chinese and Koreans engaged the Japanese, we forgave and forgot. So that’s just who we are.

WISNER: Secretary, at the risk of grossly oversimplifying a very sophisticated answer, I’m going to say I took one thing away from it, put my finger on it, and that is your understanding that you and the Chinese agree that the current situation in the South China Sea, no one will damage the status quo. No one will change the status quo beyond where it has already been changed.


WISNER: I’m going to seize on that, because that’s—


WISNER: —really very, very important, particularly in light of the fact that we have other examples where a similar agreement in the Doklam area between Bhutan, India, and China, the status quo was understood by the three parties and then was abridged. So I’ve got my fingers crossed for you.

CAYETANO: Yes. Well, sir, on that point, I agree with you totally. That’s why we need a 25-year plan, a 100-year plan. What we’re saying is before the status quo, we’re looking at it in relative terms. Right before President Duterte came into office, everyone, all our competitors except Brunei, all the co-claimants, were moving forward, and the Philippines was left behind.

So this is a stopgap. Let’s all stop, then the COC. Then let’s see how—eventually we have to roll this all back. We don’t want an arms race in the area, certainly.

WISNER: All right.

CAYETANO: But that’s where we’re misunderstood. They’re thinking that we’re OK with the status quo.


CAYETANO: We’re OK at stopping at the status quo—

WISNER: I understand that.

CAYETANO: —then gaining after that. You know, we’re not saying the status quo is good for us, because we want the area to be an area of peace and cooperation.

WISNER: Let me ask one other question and then turn to members of the audience. You are making assumptions in your very articulate way about the five-year, 10-year, 25-year plan. And it’s fascinating to see a Filipino senior spokesman of Philippine diplomacy put things in that dynamic of perspective.

All of us are observing a rapidly changing sense of balance in the Asia-Pacific area. The rise of Chinese power is a major factor which everyone has to adjust, including China. So let me ask you, if you look out over this 10- to 20-year period, how do you see the balance developing? And where do you see the Philippines and where do you see the Philippines and the United States working inside that balance?

CAYETANO: Well, Ambassador, you’re part Filipino, you know, with you spending so much time. And you know that we’re both hopeless romantics and, you know, incredibly either naïve optimists or real optimists.

And the way I see our part of the world is the way I see New York; if we can just live together and get along and, you know, have the boundaries between Little Italy and Chinatown and Little Brazil and everything and enrich ourselves with each culture. But it’s very optimistic. You know, it really depends on what we do in the next few years. It really depends. There are some things that depend on us. There are some things that depend on China.

Let me give you an example. When the U.S. put missiles on Turkey as part of its defense against the USSR, the USSR responded by trying to put missiles in Cuba. And, of course, the rest is history. The great President JFK, you know, stood his ground. And we saw what happened there.

Now, is the same thing going to happen in our part of the world? For the longest time, everyone was satisfied with the security chain of the U.S. from Australia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, and Taiwan, despite the one-China policy. But when there was more movement and aggression in the West Philippine Sea-South China Sea, you know, everyone started to arm itself more.

Now that there’s problems in North Korea, you can’t blame Japan and Korea wanting to have a better defense system. But nowadays a defense system is also an offense system. It’s also—a defensive system can have dual use, can be—


CAYETANO: —military, non-military. But it will be defensive, but it also can be used to launch an attack, which is causing commotion in China and Russia. So this is what I mean. But there are some things that are purely within our—what we will do and what ASEAN does, what the U.S. will do. But there are some things that we have, you know, to take a second look at and say are we going to let history repeat itself, or are we going to allow another cold war? Is it going towards there? Or is there democratic space; you know, some compromises that doesn’t compromise our principles but allows the peace to grow?

WISNER: Well, you’ve put your finger on my question of the U.S.-China-Philippine relationship, the balance between the three, but much more broadly with North Korea in mind. How do you keep the peace in Asia in this troublesome period of transition?

In any case, you’ve been very generous answering my questions. I’d like you to be equally generous in taking questions from the floor.

May I remind all those who want to ask a question, please keep your question simple, straightforward. This is for questions, as opposed to long comment; and second, if you’d be kind enough to introduce yourself and your affiliation.

And out of respect to my betters, the first question goes to former Ambassador to the Philippines Nick Platt.

Q: Delighted to welcome you here today.

When I served in your country, our big competitor in the region was the Soviet Union.


Q: And now the Soviet Union is gone and it’s been replaced by Russia, and so on and so forth. We’ve been talking about U.S.-China-Philippine relations. I wonder, how does your relationship with Russia factor in, if at all, to the general balance?

CAYETANO: First of all, sir, it’s a pleasure seeing you here today. And I told the ambassador I used to follow my dad around, and he was always close with the U.S. ambassadors; my mom, having taught in Joosmang (ph) because she’s a teacher.

And so we’re really following the rule friends to all, enemies to none. So I think there’s—there will always be suspicion of how strong a relationship of the Philippines can be with countries where the U.S. has rivalry with, because they always look at the Philippines in the home team of the United States. And again, the reasons are obvious: shared history, shared values, the love for democracy.

You know, I was in Al Jazeera last week. I think they’re showing this Friday. And when I was answering human-rights questions, I was told, sir, do you know that many foreign ministers of police states or of tyrants or—are—(inaudible)—in that chair and answering the same way that you are? I said, yes, but they don’t have democratic elections, they don’t have a free press, and you’re not welcome to go in and investigate. And the Philippines is an open society. We have democratic elections. The media is as free in the world, and you’re welcome to come and investigate.

So, actually, sir, I think there is caution maybe on the side of our new friends in fully engaging with the Philippines because of that notion. And we are simply communicating to them that as long as it’s not a defense alliance, you’re all welcome in the Philippines; so tourism, you know, trade, investments, infrastructure.

So it’s natural for Russia, for example, to see that the development in technology of the Japanese and Chinese in railways and see that they do have their own technology in railways and also have their own companies that could benefit in doing business in the Philippines. It’s just so much easier doing it with the Americans, for example, because we speak the language. Our constitution was a copy from your Constitution. Of course, the Japanese have been great partners of Philippine business the last 30, 40 years who knows how to do business.

So I think, sir, it’s in the getting-to-know stage. But there is sincerity on our side. And, of course, we hope that there’s always sincerity in the others. And you can’t blame us to be sentimental. So when Marawi happened and President Putin graciously changed his schedule to see the president, offered help, and when the Chinese sent us emergency supplies to help us in Marawi, you know, we did not turn our backs. And we acknowledge how much the U.S., Australia, and other countries are doing for us. But we could not say no to help from new friends, given the grave situation.

You know, if we made a wrong turn somewhere in Marawi, you could have had a civil war. It could have been not the extremist versus the government. It could have been, you know, a different narrative.

So we are thankful to all our new friends and neighbors, sir, but I really can’t put a—articulate a description of the relationship now, because it’s at the get-to-know basis. And let’s get to know each other better. That’s what’s ongoing, sir.

Q: Makes sense.

WISNER: There you are. Go ahead.

Q: Hi, Secretary. My name is Les Baquiran from Alpine Capital Advisers.

And you talked earlier about the elephant in the room. And being American, a Fil-Am, we hear a lot from policymakers and the media about the more critical attacks in the war on drugs. This being on the record, I want to give you an opportunity to sort of talk about the Philippine government side of the story and how you feel about if the Americans are truly misunderstanding what we see in the media.

CAYETANO: OK. Let me give you the situation and then three quick points, OK.

If any one of you here was elected president of any country and you had one rape every 53 minutes and you had 2-year-old, 4-year-old, 6-year-olds being raped; when you had call-center people working in call centers going home at 10:00, they being robbed, they give everything, including their car, but they’ll still be killed; where you have a brother raping a sister; where you have a son shooting at his father saying he’s the devil, you know, and this multiplying in each community; and then you have the police, who said that if everyone selling drugs, we might sell it ourselves, why give it to the businessmen; then you have prosecutors who say there’s nothing we can do, so let’s be easy on them; and then the judges, then the politicians; and then later on, the suppliers of drugs themselves saying why support politicians, whether buying them or renting them? Let’s run ourselves.

And that was the situation and that was happening in the Philippines. And what is a shock to us is that this is all documented by both the EU and the Philippines. And if you look at publications of the U.N., ASEAN planned in 2015 to be drug-free. But instead of being drug-free, the drugs problem exploded.

So this is where the three points I’d like to say come in. First, a misunderstanding of the kind of drug problem, because when we say drugs, especially in Europe, they react, because the kind of drugs that are available there are the marijuana, heroin, LCD, cocaine. And the UNODC itself—I just got this on this trip—get about the facts, you know—has a description of all of this. And in all of those drugs I said, there is no tendency for the user to act violently or to have paranoia or violent streaks, you know. So, of course, these countries that use these drugs will say they’re not a threat. They’re a threat to themselves. It’s a health problem; we have to have a health approach.

But if you go to page 10 of the UNODC—and, by the way, WHO has a similar finding—when it talks about methamphetamines, or in the Philippines shabu, you would see other risks. Methamphetamine use sometimes triggers aggressive, violent, and bizarre behavior among users. There’s a science to that, and I won’t take that much.

I’ll go to the second point, which is I’m not saying we made it any easier with the way our president and the rest of our people speak about it. If we explained it in a much better way, there would be more understanding. But you don’t blame people when they say we’ll remove you from this world if you’re a terrorist or, you know, or I’ll eat you when you’re a terrorist. But when it’s against drugs, it’s, wait a minute; how about their human rights?

So let me admit that the rhetoric, you know, of course, disturbed the balance. And that’s why BBC, CNN. But having said that, we expected them to look deeper. You know, and why the rhetoric? Because that’s what the drug lords understand. That’s what people high on these drugs understand. They don’t understand the politically correct way of doing it or saying rule of law, police, et cetera.

My second point goes into how the West has been showing it in their media. When I went to the United Nations Human Rights Council, they were so surprised. I think I was the first one to show a video. I showed the president’s state-of-the-nation address where he said that the police are not allowed to abuse and the police have to follow the rules of engagement and that a policeman who is abusive is worse than criminality itself.

And we have on the record so many times when the president stated that the police can only go—can only shoot back when their lives are endangered. And these are all on the record, but it’s not coming out in the West.

Another example of that (bias ?) is you saw on CNN and BBC the son of the president being called a member of the triad and being accused of having millions and being involved in drugs. Why? Because in Philippine society, any Tom, Dick, or Harry gets called to the senate or to the house hearing because that’s the interaction of our media, our NGOs, our opposition, and administration in saying you have nothing to hide; come to the hearing.

There is no vetting process like the—or if there is a vetting process, it’s up to the chairman. And like Chairman Dick Gordon, who’s a lawyer and a very good lawyer, tried to vet—tried to vet the witness, and he got clobbered by the media. And the media is telling him just call them and put them there. But U.S. Congress wouldn’t do that. The European Parliament would not call a witness without swearing them, without vetting the information about them. And what was on BBC? BBC, alleged triad, et cetera. They did not even give the context that in the Philippines, any Tim, Dick, or Harry who’s mentioned will be there. No.

Thirdly, there was deception by some people in the Philippines who are against President Duterte and against the changes he wants. If I would ask you now, Les, for example, or the Filipinos in the room, how many extrajudicial killings in 2011—give me a wild guess—wild guess.

Q: Huge.

CAYETANO: Thousand? Two thousand? Five hundred? If I asked you 2013 or 2014—well, you don’t have to say it, but hold that number in your mind. Between 2010 to 2016, the smallest number of extrajudicial killings was 11,500. The highest was 16,000 in 2013. In 2012, Senator de Lima, who was then secretary, went to the U.N. and she was told too many extrajudicial killings.

So what did they do? They passed an administrative order changing the definition of extrajudicial killing. From now on, if it’s not ideological or political, so if they’re not labor-union leaders, if they’re not pastors or imams or priests, or if they’re not journalists, it’s not extrajudicial. Then they started reporting numbers of 20, 50, 80, you know, as these numbers.

Then President Duterte comes into office. Then they suddenly say 1,000 killed, extrajudicial killing. But these are the murder homicides that were happening every year. So we don’t blame you if you say—if you are thinking it used to be 50, 100, in the past administrations. Suddenly it’s 1,000 in a month. Suddenly it’s 3,000 in a month. Suddenly it’s 5,000 in five months.

But if you knew that that was the average, you would see that precisely why we have this campaign, because every life is important. And, you know, would you want 11,000 murders or homicides in your country? And 60, 70 percent of this was drug-related.

So question: If what you’re saying is true, Alan, then how come the number of those killed in the operations is also much bigger? Because in the six months of President Arroyo and six years of President Aquino, there were only 68,000 drug operations. In the first year of President Duterte, there was 90,000 police operations because the police were now fighting back.

But if you look at the ratio, for every 20, one dies; for every 20 operations. It did not change. So your newspapers, for example, neglect to say that 93,000 have been arrested, that 1.3 million have surrendered, and none of their constitutional rights have been violated. Even the pushers who have surrendered, we have not asked them to testify against themselves nor sign affidavits against themselves.

So don’t take my word for it. We are inviting fact-finding. I’ve talked to U.N. Secretary Guterres. I’ve talked to Secretary Tillerson. What we’re saying is that the U.N. Council wants one person to investigate, Dr. Callamard. And he’s also being assisted by our human rights—the chairman of the Human Rights Council, Chito Gascon.

But if you look at her tweets—there’s something about tweeting and outrageous statements, you know—but she’s already called our president a murderer. She’s already stated that there’s no evidence—it was a retweet—that this kind of drugs leads to violence. And she’s already tweeted that there’s mass murder in the Philippines.

So if someone tweeted that about the U.S., would you allow her to investigate the U.S.? So simply we’re saying 7 billion people in the world; send us someone with an open mind. They don’t have to be quiet. If they said something like I’m concerned about the Philippines, too much death, still, come on over. You know, then do the investigation quietly. Then we’ll discuss openly the discussions. But they want to politicize everything. They want to come in with all the media. Then they want to meet the victim. You know, Human Rights Watch, for example—(inaudible). I think you get the point.

WISNER: You’ve made it forcefully.

Mr. Secretary, I wish we could carry this on. And I think I understood you may even be able to have a couple of extra minutes.

CAYETANO: Yes. I’m only available till 8:00 p.m. (Laughter.)

WISNER: Ah. But I promised to do my job, which is—

CAYETANO: I’m sorry if I have a—

WISNER: —to say that it’s half past the hour. The proceedings have to come to a close.

Now, I know there are a number of questions that have yet to be asked, and I can see several of them. But would you please come up at the end and ask the secretary—not now, but at the end of the proceedings. And I’d ask his indulgence and take the questions that haven’t been answered.

Otherwise, let me say, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. And I must say I appreciate your candor, your willingness to take on some pretty tough issues today, and to remind us all of the enduring importance of our very historic relationship with the Philippines, something that a lot of Americans, myself included, believe in.

I’d also like to thank, Carrie (sp), you and your staff at the Council, for putting together such a good event today. And please give our respects to Richard. Thank you.

Secretary, thank you.

CAYETANO: Thank you. (Applause.)


Top Stories on CFR


Outright seizure of the Russian Central Bank’s hundreds of billions in frozen assets is currently off the table, but it is still possible to obtain large sums for Ukraine from the interest income on these assets.


NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

The war in Ukraine marks a new era of instability in Europe. Countering Russia’s efforts will require a stronger, more coordinated NATO.