MANILA -- Malacanang said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must discuss first China's proposal of holding naval drills with member-countries in the South China Sea.
"The Philippine position will be discussed in ASEAN. Hintayin na lang po natin 'yung magiging discussion na ito," Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said when asked to comment on China's proposal.
The Chinese defense minister on Friday said he was willing to hold joint drills in the disputed South China Sea with Southeast Asian countries to prevent accidental encounters, as well as for the effective conduct of search and rescue operations.
China's relations with several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, have soured in recent years because of the Asian giant's assertive posture in the region.
China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, which is a major sea lane for trade.
Valte also reiterated the multifaceted relations between China and the Philippines, despite their differences in the South China Sea issue.
"We have always maintained that our relationship with China is multifaceted—meaning, maraming level, maraming pinag-uusapan," Valte said when asked about the meeting of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin with his Chinese and ASEAN counterparts, and the improving relations between the two countries.
"Our lines of communication have always been open when it comes to discussing the other facets of our relationship."
Media reports say the United States has decided to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations inside 12 nautical-mile limits that China claims around islands built on reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
Valte said it is up to the US to carry out such military activities.
The Philippines has no right to dictate on what another country wishes to do on a particular situation, she added.
Valte emphasized, however, that freedom of navigation and regional stability must be maintained in the area due to its role in international trade.
"It is important that parties are free to pass through without any intimidation or harassment, and everyone follows international law," she said. - with a report from Reuters