MANILA - The Philippines is "considering other diplomatic initiatives and legal processes allowed under international law" over the reported installation by China of weapons systems on reclaimed features in the South China Sea, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Thursday.
Speaking to Kyodo News, Yasay said the government continues to gather information to verify the report last week by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies about the apparent Chinese militarization in the disputed waters, which includes areas falling within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
"Only recently, there is a report that they have now installed missiles there. We are concerned about it, if this is true," Yasay said.
"While we are verifying this, we are already concerned of the report that they have made these installations, put up these new weapons systems there. From the point of view of the Philippines, of course, these are actions that will serve only to heighten the tensions that already exist," he added.
Yasay did not elaborate, however, what diplomatic initiatives and legal processes under international law he is referring to.
Instead, he reiterated the Philippines' decision, under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, to put the issue of territorial disputes with China on the back burner in the absence of a "ready solution" and as it seeks to reinvigorate the two countries' economic and sociocultural ties.
Manila's relationship with Beijing suffered during the previous administration after then President Benigno Aquino internationalized the disputes issue, and even submitted it for arbitration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2013.
In July this year, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines by declaring China's nine-dash line claim over almost the entire South China Sea as having no legal basis. It also criticized China for causing marine environmental damage when it reclaimed a number of reefs in the disputed areas, and for denying Filipino fishermen access to Scarborough Shoal.
"We would like to make sure that while we are putting this issue of our dispute in the South China Sea on the back burner, we are not compromising or eroding our rights, as already declared by the arbitral tribunal," Yasay said.
"In the future, when we have a ready solution, we will use this decision of the arbitral tribunal as the basis for us to move forward in resolving this dispute peacefully because the arbitral tribunal has laid the legal foundations for our claim," he added.
In a recent speech, Duterte said he will raise the arbitral ruling with China before his six-year term ends.
The CSIS reported based on satellite imagery that large anti-aircraft guns and what are likely close-in weapons systems have been installed on all seven of the artificial islands that China built in the South China Sea, indicating Beijing's seriousness of defending those features.
The U.S. think tank tracked construction of identical, hexagon-shaped structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands since June and July, describing them as "an evolution of point-defense fortifications already constructed at China's smaller facilities on Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron reefs."