Manila [Philippines], May 18 (ANI): Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has banned his cabinet from speaking out in public on the South China Sea (SCS) dispute with China.
This comes after Philippines key ministers got engaged in a war of words with Beijing over the issue of incursions by nearly 300 Chinese militia vessels in the disputed territory in the South China Sea.
While Duterte has been reluctant to confront China over the issue, his foreign and defence secretaries have repeatedly criticised Beijing for its refusal to withdraw the ships from the disputed waters, TRT World reported.
"This is my order now to the cabinet... to refrain (from) discussing this West Philippine Sea (issue) with... anybody," Duterte said in a recorded speech late Monday, using the local name for the sea.
"If we have to talk, we talk only among us," Duterte told several cabinet members, including Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who previously described the presence of Chinese boats as an "incursion".
The Philippine Foreign Ministry has accused China's coast guard of "shadowing, blocking, dangerous manoeuvres, and radio challenges of the Philippine coast guard vessels."
It vowed to continue maritime exercises in its South China Sea EEZ in response to a Chinese demand that it stop actions it said could escalate disputes, CNN reported.
Early this month, Philippine foreign minister Teodoro Locsin had issued an expletive-laced warning to China, asking it to get out of disputed waters, where over 200 Chinese vessels have remained moored since last month.
The blunt warning came as Chinese "maritime militia" vessels have repeatedly refused to withdraw the ships from Manila's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
The defence and foreign affairs ministries in the Philippines have been up in arms for a fortnight over the presence of the fishing boats suspected to be manned by Chinese maritime militia at Whitsun Reef, with statements flying back and forth over the alleged incursion into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Locsin apologised for its remarks following a protest by China. The Philippines presidential spokesperson asserted that Locsin's statement did not represent the official stance of the government and that his apology was not ordered by the government.
Meanwhile, Locsin clarified on his personal Twitter account that his apology was addressed "only" to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (ANI)