MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang ruled out Saturday the deployment of Navy vessels to drive away Chinese ships purportedly reclaiming land in at least two disputed reefs in the Spratly Islands, as Vietnam had done weeks ago.
Abigail Valte, one of President Benigno Aquino III’s official spokespersons, dismissed suggestions of a military response to the reported dredging up of land from the sea at Gavin and Calderon Reefs by Chinese ships, saying the government would stick to the diplomatic approach.
“We will not respond to any provocative action,” the spokeswoman said over state-run dzRB radio.
Riled by the installation of an oil rig in disputed waters within its exclusive economic zone in early May, Vietnam sent ships to the area that ended up being rammed by a larger fleet of Chinese ships. Recently, a Chinese ship sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in the area.
Apart from the fact that Philippine ships were no match to China’s naval assets, Valte said the government has adopted the diplomatic tack to peacefully resolve disputes.
“We always exhaust the diplomatic channels, as well as other legal means that can help us address this particular issue,” she said.
Aquino last Thursday expressed concern over the movement of Chinese ships around the two reefs in disputed waters possibly to reclaim land.
These ships, he said, were similar to the ships that reclaimed land on Mabini Reef with a view to building an airstrip, a move protested by the Philippines.
The Philippines filed on March 30 a memorandum, called a “memorial,” in the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, asking it to rule on Beijing’s claim to most of the South China Sea.
The tribunal has asked Beijing to respond to the memorandum, but Beijing has balked at this.
Valte said that the military has not confirmed actual reclamation on the reefs.
“What has reached the President is that some ships have been sighted that are capable of transporting reclamation materials, but the President has not mentioned if indeed reclamation has started. So, you know, those are two completely different things,” she said.
She said that any damage to corals would be considered in the action to be taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs on the matter.