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Cayetano defends Chinese presence near Pag-asa

Alan Peter Cayetano, then a senator, speaks during the universal periodic review of the Philippines by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on May 8, 2017 at the UN offices in Geneva. AFP/Fabrice Coffrini, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines' top diplomat justified the reported presence of Chinese ships near Pag-asa Island in Palawan, stressing that the country should develop mutual trust with Beijing.

Rep. Gary Alejano of party-list group Magdalo earlier said that China has deployed two frigates, one Coast Guard vessel and two large fishing vessels one to three nautical miles north of Pag-asa Island.

READ: China ships massing near Pag-asa sandbars?

Pag-asa, a fifth class municipality in Palawan, is the second biggest island in the Spratly Islands next to the Taiwanese-occupied Itu Aba.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that China should not be regarded as an enemy.

"Why were we not concerned about the US doing freedom of navigation, ang lalaki ng ships nila. You know why? Kasi they’re our allies so if we keep looking at China as the enemy, every time na may movement sila masyado tayong nag-re-react," Cayetano said.

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Cayetano added that the Philippines should instead ask China for an explanation regarding their presence instead of being alarmed.

On the other hand, Alejano called on the Duterte administration to ask China to order their ships away from Pag-asa Island and file a diplomatic protest against China.

“I call on the Philippine government officials to be transparent in what is happening in West Philippine Sea. We must assert our rights in the midst of talks with China,” Alejano said.

The foreign ministers of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, under the leadership of Cayetano, earlier released a joint communique emphasizing the importance of self-restraint and non-militarization in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea.

Cayetano, however, admitted that he did not want to initially include "land reclamation" in the statement as Beijing supposedly stopped its land-filling activities in the region.

RELATED: Photos disprove China's claim of halting land reclamation

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