Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario told reporters that an upcoming exploration in the Spratlys' Recto Bank, 80 nautical miles west of the Philippines Palawan province, will proceed as planned, Quezon City's Business World reported Thursday.
"China can take the position that they oppose it, the position that they've taken is on the basis of the nine-dash right?" del Rosario said. "But the nine-dash has no basis in international law and international law can and will validate our position that the Reed Bank is ours. It's ours. It's within our territory we should be able to do what we want there, right?"
The "nine-dash" is a reference to Chinese assertions it holds sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, based on a map from the early 20th century that delineates the sea in nine broken dashes.
China has recently bolstered that claim by sending naval vessels into the contested waters where other countries were conducting research.
"We're the victims of these intrusions, so I think we had basis to be able to stand up and to be able to take a position on what is ours," del Rosario said.
The Filipino government is also seeking support for its position from its fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations member nations.
Del Rosario noted that in July the Philippines was the host for a meeting of maritime legal experts to study a Filipino proposal to turn the disputed territories in the South China Sea into a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation, which presented earlier at an ASEAN Regional Forum in Indonesia.
"To be fair, the ASEAN countries have supported this ASEAN initiative to be able to take a look at this framework where we are segregating what is contested versus what is not contested, so that we can have this legal experts' meeting in Manila," he said.
"We don't have to convince China, we just have to convince ASEAN that this in fact is a valid way to settle the dispute."
The Spratly Islands are believed to contain vast offshore mineral and energy resources but portions of the archipelago are claimed not only by the Philippines but China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The issue could be subjected to diplomatic maneuvering next month, as plans are under way for Philippines President Benigno Aquino III to visit to China this month or in early September, pending confirmation from the Department of Foreign Affairs.