MANILA - The Philippines said on Thursday it would ask China to clarify its alleged construction of military facilities in disputed reefs, as shown by photos from a US think-tank.
The issue could be raised during a bilateral consultation between Philippine and Chinese officials in May, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said.
"We take it very seriously, but when it says it could accommodate this and that, that’s something we will have to verify with China," Manalo told ANC's "Headstart."
The photos from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) purportedly show new radar antennae on Fiery Cross and Subi reefs, where China has built artificial islands.
Manalo said the photos suggested that China could "accommodate" such facilities, but added, "I don’t think anything is there yet."
"This could also be used for civilian uses and/or military. We’re not yet sure, so we really have to see what happens...We don’t know with China [if that’s for tourism], that’s why we would have to seek clarification from China on what these are all about," he said.
This, he noted, would be in line with the Duterte adminsitration's approach of resolving the South China Sea dispute through "diplomatic means."
"The DFA, our real mandate is to peacefully settle this, or at least discuss it, then seek diplomatic solutions. But certainly, we would have to raise whatever issues are of import to us," said Manalo, further stressing that this is the purpose of the bilateral mechanism.
Philippine officials "will be mentioning that these developments are within our EEZ," he said, but will steer clear of mentioning the country's win at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to be consistent with President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to set it aside in the meantime and raise it "at the appropriate time."
The international court last year ruled in favor of the Philippines' arguments for maritime entitlements over the West Philippine Sea, but Duterte has repeatedly said he "will not impose anything on China."
A framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea is currently in the works in hopes it would prevent escalating tensions in the disputed waters and instead promote cooperation among China and Southeast Asian nations.