MANILA- Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano belied Tuesday reports on China's alleged invasion of a Philippine island off the waters of the West Philippine Sea.
Cayetano maintained that the Philippines will not cede "an inch" of its territory and assured that there is no problem in the area.
"So let me assure you wala nang problema doon sa area na yun kung nagka-problema man, it was resolved diplomatically. It's not true that there was an attempt na-iinvade or agawin," Cayetano said.
"Let me put it this way, the mere presence per se although we were informed, and of course we needed to talk about it, the mere presence of Chinese ships under the UNCLOS doesn't mean anything," he added.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier said that Sandy Cay, located some 2.5 miles off Pag-asa Island, was being “seized – to put it mildly – or being invaded – to put it frankly – by China.”
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano first revealed the presence of Chinese ships near Pag-asa Island, a claim which was later supported by satellite images from American think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The images taken last Aug. 13 showed 9 Chinese fishing vessels and 2 Chinese Navy ships near Pag-asa island.
Cayetano also assured the CSIS that the government is pursuing Philippine interest.
"So message ko sa CSIS, we're dealing with it. We're dealing with it but from the point of view of Philippine interest. When our interest coincides with America, then you will have us there. When our interests diverge, then we will follow Philippine interest," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday also downplayed concerns on the reported presence of Chinese ships in Sandy Cay, saying he would not confront China.
“Hindi naman nag-iinvade eh. Hindi naman totoo yung sinasabi ni ano (Carpio). They are just there but they are not claiming anything,” Duterte told reporters.
The foreign affairs chief instead said the top security threat Philippines should address is that of North Korea, since Manila plays a key role as chair of this year's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"Kung may gulo din dito sa West Philippine Sea, paano tayo makakatulong na i-resolve yung Korean Peninsula and other intra-regional issues that we have to take care of?" he said.
Cayetano also reiterated that the Philippines is proceeding with the idea of joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea.
He said they were advised by Chinese counterparts to separate territorial claims from other issues to avoid complications and assured lawmakers that the Philippine Constitution will not be violated in pushing for a joint exploration.