MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines has taken "diplomatic actions," including filing protests, against China over its activities in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed this Thursday amid China's reported installation of missile launch systems and the landing of bomber planes on islands within the waters, which have drawn concern from the Philippines and the international community.
"The President (Rodrigo Duterte), who is the chief architect of the nation’s foreign policy, will not sit on our rights and will never give away even an inch of territory," Roque said.
"The current administration has acted on incidents which occurred in the disputed areas over the West Philippine Sea by taking diplomatic actions with China. Indeed, we will resort to all diplomatic initiatives when warranted but without fanfare," he said.
He made the confirmation in the wake of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano's statement at a House of Representatives hearing Wednesday, where he said Manila has filed several diplomatic protests against China over the past two years.
Responding to Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, Cayetano said: "Several dozens, siguro maybe 50, 100? I have to count it over the past two years."
"I’ve given several assurances already that we are taking the diplomatic actions, including protests, that’s why before this hearing, I showed the chairman all of our protests or many of them to show na hindi totoo na hindi kami nagpo-protest," Cayetano told lawmakers during a briefing for the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.
He also clarified that protests come in many forms, citing points the Philippines would raise with China during meetings under the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM).
The second round of the dialogue, started in 2017 to revive "friendly consultations and negotiations," was held in February where both sides reaffirmed commitment to resolve the dispute.
"People think that protests [are] a specific form. When the President [Duterte] tells President Xi ‘That is mine,’ or ‘I want to get that,’ that’s a protest. When we file a note verbale, that’s a protest. When we have a BCM and we list down everything, that’s a protest. If we list down 10 things, then we protest 10 things," Cayetano said at the hearing.
"So I could go up to you now and say, Congressman, ‘pasensya ka na but I disagree with you.’ That is a protest. If you were a different country, that was a diplomatic protest already," he added.
Addressing Alejano, a staunch administration critic, Cayetano also asserted that the Philippines was not bowing down to China regarding the dispute.
"To your third point of appeasement and surrendering, there’s no appeasement and surrendering. In fact, China has treated us and is treating us as a sovereign equal," he said.
He said the Philippines has not set aside its 2016 arbitral victory where an international tribunal invalidated China's nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea.
China has ignored the ruling as it stepped up militarization efforts.
"Just because we're not using [the] arbitration award, that doesn't mean we have given up any of our rights under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)," Cayetano said, in reference to the treaty that defines sovereign and international rights in the seas.
"We have a bilateral consultative mechanism. [We have brought up the arbitral award] twice already. The only difference is hindi tayo nakikipagsigawan sa China every day (we are not engaged in a shouting match with China every day)," he added.
As China fortified islands in the contested waters, the Philippines began to upgrade its Navy, including the planned acquisition of aircraft with missile capability.
The Philippines has also begun repairs on the collapsed runway on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys, which hosts a military detachment and is home to a civilian community.
Beijing has hit criticism against its actions in the South China Sea, asserting that it owned territories in the waters.