The Philippines yesterday said it was investigating signs that China was reclaiming land on disputed South China Sea reefs but stressed it would not be provoked into a rash response.
President Benigno Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the government was looking into reports that the Chinese were damaging the reefs in an alleged effort to turn two remote outcrops in the sea into islands.
But Valte added that Manila would continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the dispute.
"We do not respond to provocative action, especially [through] military action ... we always exhaust the diplomatic channels, as well as other legal means that can help us address this particular issue," Valte said.
She also reiterated Aquino's earlier remarks that Chinese ships had been spotted in the South China Sea, possibly carrying land-reclamation equipment.
The two reefs are within the Spratly Islands, a disputed archipelago claimed in full or part by the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
However, an armed forces spokesman could not confirm if the photographs were genuine.
Last month, the Philippines publicly accused Beijing of large-scale reclamation activity at the Chinese-held Johnson South Reef in the Spratlys.
Manila, which also claims the reef, said the reclamation work could lead to China building its first airstrip in the disputed region.
Johnson South Reef lies about 300km from the large Philippine island of Palawan and is considerably further away from the Chinese coastline.
The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China's reclamation works on the reef but Beijing rejected it on grounds the reef is part of Chinese territory.
Tensions have risen over China's claim to most of the South China Sea, with the Philippines and Vietnam being the most vocal in recent years in accusing China of using bullying tactics to enforce its claim.