The Philippines has sent 'note verbales' to China to seek clarification on several topics including Beijing's installation last year of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on its man-made island, the foreign minister said Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay confirmed on ANC's Headstart that he has sent three or four note verbales to China since he has taken office.
"As part of our job, we make sure that our interests are properly protected so when a situation arises for us to issue a note verbale, we just do it as a matter of course without any fanfare," he said.
A note verbale is a diplomatic note written in the third person and is unsigned. It is typically less formal than a diplomatic protest, also known as a note.
Asked if the note verbale will bring any kind of action about the territorial row, he said: "We are not prepared. China is also not prepared to resolve the issue of the disputed territory right now."
Yasay maintained that a protest will not be appropriate under the circumstances especially since "you are hearing this on reports of some institutions. You want to verify this, but your verification process may not be as accurate. This is the reason why you issue a note verbale."
He said he had issue a note verbale when he got the report that China appears to have built anti-aircraft guns and probably close-in weapons systems at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands.
"We had our people, especially in the intelligence community, verify all of these things, and when the verification came in, we as a matter of course sent a note verbale to China and tell them if this is true and state the situation. We are issuing it," he said.
Yasay said because a note verbale is a confidential correspondence, he could not disclose the other issues that were his basis for sending one for China, but he revealed that they "issued it in connection with the situation developing in the South China Sea as we saw a threat to our national interests."
"Generally, it is a communication where we ask for verification from China and we also make sure that we are not taking this sitting down, but it’s not unusual for a nation to do this," he said.
He explained that through a note verbale, the channels of communications have been opened between the two parties.
Yasay, however, refused to disclose China's response to his note verbale, insisting that it is confidential in nature. "These are matters that are really best kept in confidence because you don't want to undermine the objective of why we are doing this."
He admitted though there will be "political consultations with China soon," without being specific when these would be.
Amid the Duterte administration's effort to renew ties with China, Yasay asserted that "it does not mean that you are compromising or eroding our rights on certain matters," particularly in this instance, he said, the country's "sovereignty rights over the exclusive economic zone that, under UNCLOS, is ours."
"Even as we are renewing various these ties, especially the other aspects of our relationship, when something happens that can pose some threat to the sovereignty rights, as a matter of course, we issue this note verbale and make sure that we are able to discuss and talk about it and see how this is properly addressed," he said.
He also argued that this step is consistent with the administration's position that it will "move forward on the basis of" the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling "when we are able and ready to engage China in bilateral talks with respect to the disputed territory in the South China Sea."
"That is the framework and we will be moving forward. As you can see, we recognize the fact that the decision of the arbitral tribunal has lain the firm legal foundations of our claim and this is what we’ve made clear to China," he said.
In the meantime, he added, because Beijing had also insisted it will not talk to Manila unless it is outside of the ruling, Yasay said, "we have in a manner of speaking, set this aside, but made it clear to each other that we are not compromising or eroding the rights that we have asserted."