Duterte gov't filed 'dozens' of protests vs. China's activities in South China Sea, officials say

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — Government officials insist the country has taken diplomatic actions to protest China's activities in the disputed South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in a House hearing on Wednesday said the Duterte administration has filed "several dozens" of diplomatic protests over the past two years.

"Maybe 50, 100. I have to count it," Cayetano said, stressing that the government is not giving up its claims in contested waters west of the country.

Malacañang on Thursday stood by Cayetano's statement and reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte "will never give away even an inch of territory."

"I go by what SFA (Secretary of Foreign Affairs) said," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a text message to CNN Philippines, when asked about the filing of protests.

"The current administration has acted on incidents which occurred in the disputed areas over the West Philippine Sea by taking diplomatic actions with China," Roque said in a separate statement.

Roque and Cayetano did not disclose details of the diplomatic protests, despite calls for these to be made known to the public to allay concerns.

Opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano on Wednesday called on the government "to assure the public that the government is doing its part and not compromising national interest."

Cayetano said the government cannot divulge the contents of all diplomatic negotiations to protect national interest.

He earlier said he will quit public office if it is proven that the country lost an island to China under his and Duterte's watch.

Cayetano and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon also assured that the Philippines is not the target of the weapons China installed on disputed islands.

The statements come amid the reported presence of two Chinese military planes on Panganiban or Mischief Reef, and China's unveiling of a monument to mark its construction work in Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef.

Both are in the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which is being claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Esperon said these may be interpreted as "increased military activity," but added these were intended for training only.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly said it will take diplomatic action whenever necessary, including the filing of a diplomatic protest against China.

China has refused to acknowledge the July 2016 arbitral ruling that awarded to the Philippines areas in the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The Philippines calls this the West Philippine Sea. China continues to claim the South China Sea in its entirety.

Duterte has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war against China, but has promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with the East Asian giant during his term.