Metro Manila, Philippines — Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Enrique Manalo said the removal of a floating barrier installed by China in a disputed shoal was “consistent” with the position of the government on the West Philippine Sea.

“Technically, we have a right to practice our sovereignty and our sovereign rights. So, it would have been consistent with our position but we’re still waiting for the full report,” he said in a chance interview on Tuesday.

Speaking to lawmakers later that day, Manalo also said the government plans to file a diplomatic protest over the matter

“Once we get confirmation sa Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), we, of course, will issue a protest to the Chinese Embassy here and we will cite the reasons why,” he said during a Senate panel hearing on the DFA’s proposed budget for 2024.

“And we’ll also probably ask our embassy in Beijing to go to the Chinese Foreign Ministry,” Manalo added.

On the possibility of filing a case against China, he said the national government still needs “to study those procedures.”

Days after the PCG discovered the floating barrier in Scarborough Shoal, which prevented Filipino fishermen from entering the area, authorities got rid of it following instructions from Malacañang and the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.

The PCG stressed that the floating barrier “posed a hazard to navigation, a clear violation of international law.”

Lawmakers also criticized China for launching such a move, with some senators saying this only showed that the Chinese government does not respect Philippine sovereignty.

Asked about the country’s relationship with China, Manalo admitted there were “differences” in the disputed waters. However, he maintained that ties will not depend solely on the issue.

“But nevertheless, it’s a difference. We have agreed to manage it. And so, the challenge is how to manage it properly,” he noted.

“Our aim is to manage disputes peacefully, and through the rule of law and international law,” the DFA chief said.

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin defended the installation of the barrier, as Beijing insisted on its claims to Scarborough Shoal, which he called Huangyan Dao.

Wenbin said China put the barrier to “block and drive away” a vessel of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources after the latter “intruded into the adjacent waters” of the shoal and attempted to enter its lagoon.

The shoal, which is part of Masinloc town in Zambales, falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.