War is not an option in resolving dispute with China: Philippines

FILE - In this June 30, 2016, file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers his speech before a solidarity dinner with the poor event at a slum area in Manila, Philippines. Duterte blamed U.S. intervention for the bloody conflicts in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries in his latest critical remark against Manila's closest security ally. Duterte suggested in a speech to Muslims on Friday, July 8, 2016, that U.S. policy was to blame for terrorist attacks on its soil, saying, "It is not that the Middle East is exporting terrorism to America, America imported terrorism." (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

The Philippines has declared that war is not an option in resolving its dispute with China, which was found to have continued its military build-up in disputed South China Sea areas, declared by a UN arbitration court to belong to Manila.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s office said on Monday that Filipino officials “know about the work” of China in seven disputed reefs, and the country relies “on the principle of good faith” that Beijing “will not reclaim new artificial islands”.

A news report published on Monday said China “is almost finished” transforming the reefs into artificial island fortresses, complete with naval and air facilities, including runways and helipads.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer also published photographs showing radar domes, lighthouses, and hangars in the facilities spanning tens of thousands of square metres.

One of the areas, called the Mischief Reef, is within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The report said the Philippines could lose 40 percent of its fishing grounds and 80 percent of its EEZ in the South China Sea, if it allows China’s expansion to go unchallenged.

“Those islands were reclaimed even at the time of the former administration,” Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman, told reporters.

“I think whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases,” he said, adding there is nothing new in the news report.

“We cannot declare war. Not only is it illegal but also because it is impossible to declare war at this point.”

Paolo Aquino, an opposition senator, raised concerns over the latest development and called on the Duterte administration to tell the public “what it gave up to China.

“While their warships 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,” he said in a statement to Al Jazeera.

In July 2016, The Hague arbitration court ruled “there was no legal basis” for China to claim historic rights across large swaths of the South China Sea.

The case was filed by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, after the Philippines found out that China had started stationing naval facilities in the resource-rich area.