MALACAñANG on Friday said reported reclamation activities by China in contested islets and shoals in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) are a “serious concern” so that Manila will press on with its diplomatic protest filed with the International Tribunal on the Laws of the Sea (Itlos).
In a new briefing, Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Philippine government will stick with its chosen legal recourse to patch up things with Beijing.
Such activities are “a serious concern, obviously, for us, which is why we are taking the tracks that we have long ago chosen . . . We have chosen the legal and the diplomatic tracks and we will stick to that,” Valte told reporters.
“We will exhaust all means under those two tracks to address the problem,” she said.
Valte, however, clarified that what the Philippine government has been pursuing before Itlos “is not one of ownership” but “the nine-dash line theory.”
Last year, Manila filed a memorial, or diplomatic protest in international law, against China for invoking its nine-dash line rule in claiming sovereignty over its supposed territories in the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea.
Valte said she could not speculate on the possible outcome of the filing of the memorial, noting that it is “a different issue for international lawyers.”
The Chinese government has drawn flak for its “massive” reclamation in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, a rocky sandbar turned into an artificial island that is suspected of being prepped up as a runway for Chinese air assets.
Reports indicated that there are dredgers, cargo vessels and fishing boats in the area.
Officials said the reclamation activities are a violation of the Declaration of Conduct, a precursor of the Code of Conduct over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The 2002 Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea provides that no country should provoke tensions there.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino earlier noted “growing” developments in Kagitingan.
Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said the reclamation activities are “50 percent complete.”
He expressed concern that the reef could be used for “purposes other than for peaceful” ones.