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Cayetano mum on China war threat

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano talks to an aide after being formally confirmed by the bicameral Commission on Appointments as new foreign secretary in the Senate plenary Wednesday, May 17, 2017 in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. Cayetano was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 10 before flying to Cambodia to attend the World Economic Forum on ASEAN after acting Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay was rejected by the Commission on Appointments. Cayetano is a staunch defender of Duterte's bloody crackdown on illegal drugs. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines' top diplomat neither confirmed nor denied reports that China threatened to go to war if the country would force the ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal on the disputed South China Sea.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that he raised the ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Their answer to me was, ‘We are friends and we do not want to quarrel with you and we want to maintain the present warm relationship we have... But if you force the issue, we go to war,'" Duterte said.

READ: China warns Duterte on SCS: We’ll go to war

New Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, however, said that there was no language or tone that would lead any of the two leaders to believe that there was disrespect for their respective countries.

"It is but natural when you talk about peace and when you talk about conflict the word war may come up, may or may not come up, so I'm not confirming or denying," Cayetano said in a press conference Monday.

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Cayetano refused to reveal what was discussed during the meeting between Duterte and Xi last week, insisting that he is not authorized to do so.

The foreign affairs secretary only said that the talks were about how to avoid conflict and how to increase mutual trust and respect.

"What I'm saying is that 'pag sinabi kong, 'Pare, sapatos ko 'yan. Hindi, akin 'yan, pare. Away tayo n'yan 'pag hindi tayo nagkasundo kung kanino,' So pwedeng interpretation mo, 'Uy aawayin ako ni Alan' but that was not the context," Cayetano added, "The context is paano natin pagkasunduan, how do we start the dialogue?"

Cayetano stressed that Duterte is focused on maintaining peace, security and regional stability as part of his campaign promise and his goal as president.

"He (Duterte) has told us many many times that he is committed to protecting our territorial integrity. He will protect every single inch of our territory but trust him on how he will do it, how he will approach it and the strategy," the secretary said.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio advised the Duterte administration to elevate to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea the threat of war against the Philippines.

Carpio said that China's threat of war if the Philippines extracts oil and gas in any area within the Philippine exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea is a gross violation of the United Nations Charter, UNCLOS and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.

RELATED: Maritime cooperation, security initialed in Philippine-China meeting

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