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No protest in Hague, only note to China over Panatag

Composite photo shows acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. Aguirre announced that the Philippines is preparing a "strong" protest against China to be filed in the Hague, The Netherlands. Manalo, however, remained mum. AP

MANILA, Philippines (2nd update, 2:56 p.m.) — A day after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II announced that the Philippines is set to file a formal protest in The Hague against China's reported plan to build on Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is only sending a note verbale to Beijing.

In Bangkok on Wednesday, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo neither confirmed nor denied the reported "strong" protest against China. The DFA's spokesperson, however, said Aguirre was unlikely to be referring to a protest filed before a United Nations-backed tribunal.

READ: Philippines prepares protest vs China over Panatag

"I think Secretary Aguirre was referring to the note that the DFA should give to the Chinese side, should the report be confirmed to be true," Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said in a phone patch interview on ANC's "News Now."

A note verbale is a diplomatic communication sent by a government to another to seek clarification on policies. Jose said, however, that once the China's construction plan on the dispute shoal is confirmed, the Philippines will send China a different note of protest.

Manalo, meanwhile, said that the Philippines is still waiting for China's reply regarding its reported plan on the disputed shoal.

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"The other day, the Department of Foreign Affairs already issued or requested China for clarification on this reported plan. As I said, it's only a reported plan so we're seeking clarification from China," Manalo said at a televised press briefing in Thailand.

The Philippine government is maintaining a regular and a close watch over Scarborough Shoal, Manalo said.

The country's top diplomat added that there has been no change in the shoal and that Filipino fishermen can still freely access the area.

He added that the Department of Foreign Affairs would be aware of any developments in the area as they are receiving reports from the Coast Guard and security agencies.

'Strategy' in the works

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, meanwhile, said that filing a protest in connection to the maritime dispute over the South China is part of the government's strategy.

Apparently addressing criticisms of inconsistency in the government's foreign policy, the senator said that a long-term strategy us being formulated in resolving issues in the contested waters.

"These are all parts of the dynamics and the strategy so please understand and give a latitude at the DFA... because although we do have to report to the people, what country will be able to achieve its objectives if we announce our strategy while we're implementing our strategy," Cayetano said.

Cayetano, who is chair of the Senate foreign affairs committee and is reportedly eyed to be the next top diplomat, assured the public that the president will fight for the country's territory.

"We continue to assure the people that President Duterte will not give up a single centimeter of Philippine territory," Cayetano said.

On July 12, 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal issued its ruling on the Philippines' complaint against China's so-called nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

The arbitral tribunal ruled that China violated its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea when it built artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The Duterte administration, however, said that it will set aside the arbitral tribunal's ruling for the meantime in settling the dispute.

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