MALACAÑANG revealed Tuesday, May 22, that the Philippines is "quietly working" with neighboring Southeast Asian nations to peacefully resolve the maritime disputes in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said negotiations between the Philippines and nine other member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are underway.
He, however, did not provide additional details.
"Just because we have not said anything in that regard, does not mean we are not doing anything," the Palace official said in an interview with Palace reporters.
"We can't publicly announce what we are doing, but you know, it goes without saying that the possibility is there, that we're quietly working with our Asean neighbors, especially those with similar claims. An overwhelming number of us, in fact within Asean, have claims," he added.
Apart from the Philippines, other Asean nations that lay claim to the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Another claimant is Taiwan.
The Duterte administration has drawn flak from critics for supposedly being silent over China's non-stop military build-up in the disputed area despite the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration's 2016 ruling that invalidates Beijing's sweeping territorial claims to the resource-rich waters.
Last week, China reportedly landed its nuclear-capable bombers, including its self-developed H-6K, on one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea, as part of training that aims to improve its ability to "reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions."
Beijing also reportedly "quietly" installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reeds in the Spratly Islands.
Roque maintained that for now, the Philippines would keep its good relations with China by merely seeking diplomacy in settling the maritime row.
"There's nothing new there. All of that already happened and was part of the history? Why did they reclaim (the islands)? They will use it as a military base. So for us, that's not new," he said.
"As we repeatedly say, we have two options: antagonize China anew or assert that we will not give up our territory. We will assert ownership of the contested waters that are part of our exclusive economic zone. But at the same time, (we'll be doing it while) moving on with our bilateral relations and agreeing what could be agreed upon," the Palace official added. (SunStar Philippines)