PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte downplayed Monday the reported move of China to occupy the Sandy Cay, a sandbar which is 2.5 nautical miles from the Philippine-occupied Pagasa Island in the disputed the South China Sea.

In an interview with reporters late Monday, Duterte said he received assurance from the Chinese government, through Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, that Beijing has not occupied the Sandy Cay.

"China assured me that they will not build anything there. I called the Ambassador when I read [the report about China's occupation of Sandy Cay. Zhao said], ‘We will assure you that we are not building anyway there,'" the President said.

"They are not doing anything there. They are just patrolling because we're friends. They are just there but they are not claiming anything," he added.

On August 19, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio claimed that Beijing has virtually occupied Sandy Cay, which he said was a "clear violation of China’s supposed vow not to occupy any more islands" in the disputed waters.

Carpio said two frigates, a Chinese coast guard, and two military fishing boats were reportedly guarding the area.

"Sandy Cay is a Philippine land territory that is being seized – to put it mildly – or being invaded – to put it frankly – by China," said Carpio.

He appealed to the Duterte administration to "vigorously protest" the supposed “invasion” of Philippine territory by China.

Duterte, however, said there was no need to file a diplomatic protest against China as he believed “any word” he got from the Beijing officials.

"Why should I [file diplomatic protest against China]? I said, that sandbar, they are not occupying it. I have their assurance that they would not occupy everything," he said.

"I believe any word of the [Chinese government]. If they break out, I would no longer trust them. [I will only be prompted to protest] when they violate our agreements – to allow Filipinos to fish there and that they will not build anything there that is near the Pagasa [Island]," he added. (SunStar Philippines)