MANILA — Malacanang on Monday said it will continue to rely on China’s promise not to reclaim new artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) amid reports that China is almost done transforming into military bases seven reefs claimed by the Philippines.
In a regular media briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace is aware of ongoing activities in the disputed territory.
“Who says we’re not monitoring? I got briefings and I can tell you we know what ships are plying where. We know about the work but the question is what you can do?” Roque said.
Roque said the Philippines can protest China’s ongoing development of the man-made islands which it started to reclaim even during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III.
“We can protest but I think there was a protest already filed even before. What else can be done? Well, we continue to rely not only on principle of good faith, we also continue to rely on the general prohibition on the use of force which is also found under international law,” Roque said.
“We expect that China, being not only a member of the United Nations but also a permanent member of the (UN) Security Council, will adhere to the prohibition in the use of force,” he added.
He said the use of force is not even an option for the Philippines which got a favorable decision from the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in its July 2016 call for the nullification of China’s nine-dash line claim that covers a large part of WPS.
“If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what do you want us to do? We cannot declare war, not only it is illegal but it also impossible for us to declare war at this point. If you have suggestion on what to do, let me know,” Roque said.
Based on their monitoring, Roque said China has so far not built new artificial islands in the WPS or South China Sea under the administration of President Duterte.
“All that we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands,” he said.
President Duterte had decided to temporarily shelve the PCA ruling not only to allow friendly dialogue on the WPS dispute but to revive and strengthen the trade and investment ties as well people-to-people exchanges between Beijing and Manila.
Meanwhile, Roque said he respects the opinion of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio when the latter said to rely on the good faith of China would be like relying on the good faith of a thief trying to get into your house.
“This is a democracy. He is entitled to his own opinion,” Roque reacted.
“But I would expect that next time he would read his opinion in the form of the court decision because that’s the function of the judicial branch of government. Or as I have said, he could run for an elected legislative position if he wants to make policy for the government,” he added.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam as well as Malaysia and Brunei have claims on the South China Sea.