THE Philippines is planning to ask a United Nations arbitration court to order China to stop reclaiming land on a disputed island chain in the South China Sea.
"We are consulting on a provisional measure," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told The Straits Times yesterday.
On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had said that the Philippines would ask the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for a quick ruling on the case it filed in March against China's claims to almost the whole of the South China Sea - possibly late this year or early next year - because of the reclamations.
Manila had been expecting a ruling no earlier than mid-2016.
China has overlapping claims with Taiwan and four Asean states, including the Philippines, in the South China Sea, and its increasing assertiveness over its claims has led to escalating tension in the region.
Surveillance photos declassified by the Philippine navy show China has been reclaiming land in five reefs in the disputed Spratlys, a group of shoals, atolls and islets in the South China Sea just west of the Philippine coastline.
The provisional measure plea, which will likely follow Manila's request for its case to be sped up, would require China to "cease and desist from disturbing the status quo", said Professor Harry Roque, director of the Institute of International Legal Studies at the University of the Philippines.
Prof Roque, who is advising the team pursuing Manila's case against China's claims, said: "Unless a provisional measure is ordered now, the future ruling will be rendered ineffective because of acts that China is doing now."
He explained that China is transforming reefs into islands to give the rocky outcrops it occupies a much larger territorial area than they are entitled to now under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
That will throw a spanner in the Philippines' UN case. Beijing has refused to participate in the case, and has rejected calls to halt building in the South China Sea.
Last Saturday, China began building a school on the largest island in the Paracel Islands chain - also claimed by Vietnam - two years after it established a city there to administer the South China Sea area it claims.
Meanwhile, a Philippine court has sentenced 12 Vietnamese men to six months in jail and fined them US$100,000 (S$125,000) for illegal fishing.
The fishermen, arrested on March 21 with a boatload of sharks off the western island of Palawan, pleaded guilty last week.