MANILA -- The Philippines will sustain its patrol of the Spratly islands despite China's call for Manila to stop "illegal provocations" in sending military aircraft near the area, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said Wednesday.
"We’re gonna continue our patrol because it’s ours," he told ANC. "That’s all there is to it."
Beijing is "free to say" what it wants over the issue, Locsin said.
"They can call it illegal provocations, you can’t change their minds. They already lost the arbitral award, they wouldn’t accept it. But if that is their choice, it’s a free world. I wouldn’t stop anyone from talking," he added.
China's latest remarks came after Manila filed a diplomatic protest over the Chinese Coast Guard's confiscation of Filipino fishermen's devices in the West Philippine Sea.
Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Li Jian said the Chinese Coast Guard merely acted "in accordance to the law."
While Manila and Beijing have fostered friendlier relations under President Rodrigo Duterte, maritime disputes in the South China Sea linger, with Beijing shunning a July 2016 arbitration award that junked its claim over nearly all of the resource-rich waters.
Duterte, who has sought investments and loans from China, will not give "even an inch" of Philippine territory to other countries, his spokesperson Harry Roque said Monday.
"Ang consistent policy rin po ng ating gobyerno, hindi po magiging dahilan itong unresolved issue sa ating teritoryo bilang hadlang para isulong sa ating diplomatic bilateral relations with China iyong mga bagay na pupuwede namang isulong, kagaya po ng kalakal at investments," he said.
(Our government's policy has been consistent. This unresolved issue on our territory will not be a hindrance for us to push through with our diplomatic relations with China on other matters, such as trade and investment.)