MANILA- Malacañang on Saturday assured China of Manila's commitment to enhance bilateral ties after it expressed concern over President Rodrigo Duterte's order for the military to occupy islands in the South China Sea.
In a statement, Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella assured Beijing that Duterte's instructions cover only existing Philippine facilities within its exclusive economic zone in the disputed waters.
"The President's position on the matter is clear and has nothing to do with politics. His instructions cover only existing PH (Philippine) facilities and PH (Philippine) territory," Abella said.
Duterte on Thursday said he has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to occupy all islands the country claims in the South China Sea.
"We have to maintain our jurisdiction over South China Sea," Duterte told reporters in Palawan.
China has expressed concern over Duterte's directive, urging Manila to "properly manage" the maritime dispute.
In a press briefing Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that Beijing hopes Manila would work to maintain bilateral ties between the two countries.
"Having noted the report, the Chinese side is concerned about it. We hope the Philippine side will continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China and work with us to maintain the sound and steady growth of China-Philippines relations," Hua said.
Abella highlighted the importance of protecting national security even as it assured China of Manila's commitment.
"The Philippines assures all claimant countries that we remain committed to improving and enhancing our relations with our neighbors and partners in the region.," he said.
"At the same time, it is important that the living conditions, safety and personal security of Filipinos in PH (Philippine) territory be assured," he added.