PH awaiting China's clarification on Scarborough before making any move - DFA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Foreign Affairs Department on Wednesday said the government is not taking any action against China's alleged construction on Scarborough Shoal, until the government of China has formally explained their side.

"We'll be awaiting a reply from China before we consider what to do next…All we can really do is wait for China's clarification," Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said in a press briefing in Bangkok, Thailand, as he joins President Rodrigo Duterte in a two-day official visit.

Pending verification, Manalo said the government is "maintaining a regular and close watch" over Scarborough Shoal, one of the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

Manalo said his department has formally requested China for clarification earlier this week.

China reportedly plans to build environmental monitoring stations on Scarborough Shoal this year, according to a city mayor on Woody Island, another disputed area in the South China Sea.

Also read: China to build on Scarborough Shoal?

Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal, is a traditional fishing ground for Filipino fishermen, which lies 119 nautical miles (220 kilometers) west of Masinloc, Zambales.

PH urged to file protest

Manalo refused to comment on the possible filing of a diplomatic protest against China, following a recommendation from Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Carpio earlier said the "least the President should do" is file a formal protest against China's supposed plan to build on Scarborough.

If the Philippines would not stop China, it would eventually "control" the West Philippine Sea, Carpio said. Carpio was part of the Philippine delegation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that argued for and won the country's case against China.

READ: What you need to know about the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling

But in an interview with CNN Philippines earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Charles Jose said the country will file the appropriate protest if necessary and if Chinese construction on Scarborough is verified.

Meanwhile, Manalo clarified Duterte's earlier statement that the country cannot stop China from building on Scarborough. Duterte has repeatedly said the Philippines cannot afford to declare war against the Asian giant.

"I think the President has been very clear: We want to have a peaceful, diplomatic settlement of disputes," Manalo said.

"But we will not fail to protect our national interest if necessary," he added.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte's running mate in the 2016 elections, assured the public that Duterte "will not give up a single square centimeter of Philippine territory."

Duterte earlier told CNN Philippines Cayetano would be the next DFA Secretary.

PH, China to talk about row

Manalo said China will meet with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states to establish a legally binding code of conduct for parties with conflicting claims in the South China Sea. Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also have claims.

"The purpose of the code is to see how we can manage our disputes carefully, not to raise tensions, not to escalate tensions," Manalo said.

The calendar of activities for the ASEAN, which the country is hosting, shows the meeting will happen in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on May 18-20.

Manalo said a group of experts is working on the framework, which he hopes will be completed in time for the meeting.

China and the ASEAN already signed in 2002 a Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, but they have yet to agree on its implementation.

Duterte on Tuesday issued a joint statement with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in which the two countries pushed for the completion and implementation of the maritime code.

Thailand does not lay claims on the disputed islands, but has reached out to other claimants for the resolution of the sea row.

Jose said the country needs the support of its allies and neighboring countries in the long-standing maritime row.

He, however, reiterated the country will continue to promote the "peaceful resolution of disputes" as it seeks dialogue with China.