MANILA - The Philippines has filed a low-key diplomatic protest over reports that China has installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on all seven of its man-made islands in the strategically vital South China Sea.
"We have taken action on that. We have issued a note verbale," Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told CNN Philippines on Monday (Jan 16), referring to a diplomatic communication issued in the third person and is not signed. It is less formal than a diplomatic note.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies has reported that anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems designed to guard against missile attack have been placed on China's newly created islands.
Mr Yasay told CNN Philippines that Manila had responded, but did so quietly. "We cannot engage China in a war," he said.
Asked at a news conference last week whether the Philippines had filed any protest with China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30 last year, he replied,
"I did. I did it before. Let me just say that. Don't blow it up because we are treading into sensitive waters."
"I'd like to assure you that we are taking every action that is required of us by law to make sure that the interest of the Philippines is properly protected. Having said that, and that assurance being made, I would not want to get into other details because that can again be counterproductive," he told reporters last week.
Mr Yasay said on the sidelines of Mr Duterte's state visit to Singapore last month that the Philippines would not protest China's moves to militarise its man-made islands in the South China Sea.
"We will make sure that there will be no further actions that will heighten the tensions between the two countries, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal," he said at the time, referring to another group of disputed islets.
"Let them take whatever action is necessary in the pursuit of their national interest... and we will leave it at that. For the Philippines, we have our bilateral engagements with China," he said.
He added: "We cannot stop China… There is nothing that we can do about that now," Mr Yasay said, adding improving relations with Beijing had paid off because Filipino fishermen can now fish around Scarborough Shoal.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have rival claims in the South China Sea.
Mr Duterte has sought to strengthen previously strained relations with Beijing, while cooling ties with long-time ally, the United States.