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Cayetano, Tugade made 'unpublicized' trip to China in June –US envoy

An "unpublicized" trip to China by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade in June started a "process" that led to Beijing's recent pledges amounting to billions of dollars, outgoing US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said Tuesday.

In a television interview, Goldberg said he was not surprised that China made multi-billion dollar deals with the Duterte administration especially after Cayetano and Tugade's visit.

"I don’t think this has been revealed publicly but I know that Senator Cayetano made an unpublicized trip to China in June along with Secretary Tugade," he said.

Cayetano was President Rodrigo Duterte's unsuccessful running-mate in the May elections.

"So all of this was actually in train, I think, and so there were already discussions going on," Goldberg said, adding that the two Philippine officials' visit to China "pre-dated" discussions between Duterte and Chinese officials.

"I don't think Senator Cayetano's role was fully known publicly, but he was actually starting this process way back in June," Goldberg said.

He said the trip was "never explained publicly," but added: "This was clearly in train before all of the recent statements and upset and all of that. So it wasn’t exactly for me surprising."

Add to this, according to Goldberg, the numerous visits to Duterte by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua and members of the Chinese business community in June.

"I actually wasn’t all that surprised... [because they] were visiting then president-elect Duterte quite often in the month of June," said Goldberg.

In August, former President Fidel V. Ramos met with Chinese representatives in Hong Kong, including Fu Ying, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the National People's Congress, China's communist-controlled legislature, during a trip aimed at improving relations between the two countries that is marred by a territorial dispute. 

Former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan, who accompanied Ramos during the trip, said both sides discussed "encouraging track two or think-tank exchanges... where we will be discussing contentious issues."

Duterte, meanwhile, just concluded a four-day state visit to China, where he publicly announced a military and economic split with the US. He also said the Philippines would now be more "dependent" on China.

Duterte later clarified that the split with US does not involve diplomatic ties. —Mark Merueñas/KBK, GMA News