Palace: Friendly ties will prevent China from using arms in islands vs PH

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Story updated to include statement of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — Malacañang said China intended to use reclaimed islands in the South China Sea  as military bases and only friendly ties will prevent Beijing from using the arms buildup against the country.

"Whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases. So, what do you want us to say?" Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a media briefing on Monday.

Roque was reacting to the Inquirer story, saying China has "finished transforming seven reefs claimed by the Philippines" in the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The story includes photos, most of which taken between June and December 2017, showing reefs "in the final stages of development as air and naval bases."

Roque said war against China is not an option.

"Right now, the posture of the President is to maintain close ties so they wouldn't have reasons to use those arms in those islands," Roque added.

The spokesperson said he also hopes no force will be used in the South China Sea.

"We'll also continue to rely on the general prohibition on the use of force, which is also found under international law and we expect that China, being, not just a member of the United Nations, but also a member of the Security Council, will adhere to the prohibition on use of force," he added.

In addition, Roque said the Philippines is relying on China's obligation of good faith, as well as briefings on activities in contested waters.

"We know what ships are plying where. We know about the work. But the question is, what can you do? You can protest, and I think there is a protest already filed even before. What else can be done?" Roque said.

PH should protest

Senator Bam Aquino, however, said it may be time for the Senate to investigate on the direction of the country's foreign policy, particularly relating to China.

"While their war ships are in our seas, we continue to give in to their whims and, all the while, we are kept in the dark as to our government's dealings with China," Aquino said.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said "a policy of appeasement" by the Philippines will embolden China to further militarize artificial islands in the Spratlys.

"Any statement from the Philippines that it cannot stop China from militarizing its artificial islands, or from undertaking new reclamations, is actually telling China to proceed because the Philippines will not stand in the way," Carpio said in a Monday statement. "At the very least the Philippines should protest, and keep on protesting, to preserve its sovereignty and sovereign rights. Otherwise, if the Philippines remains silent, it may be deemed under international law to have waived or abandoned its sovereignty or sovereign rights."

Warmer ties

Prior to the Duterte administration, China has been at odds with the country after it continues to insist claims over the disputed waters.

This is despite a 2016 ruling from the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal recognized the country's extended continental shelf in the South China Sea, particularly what the country calls West Philippine Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte restored warm ties with China, especially with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In November 2017, Duterte said the South China Sea issue is "better left untouched," rejecting confrontation and instead pushing for "cooperation."

READ: South China Sea issue 'better left untouched' - Duterte

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in January, said the military will pursue the rehabilitation of facilities on Pag-asa Island one of the islands in South China Sea, in the first quarter of 2018.

This was after China complained of shelters for Filipino fishermen being built in Pag-asa Island in November.

READ: Defense chief: Military to build facilities on Pag-asa Island in 2018