A spokesperson for the administration of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said they had asked Chinese authorities to "clarify the accuracy of the report" in the Hainan Daily newspaper that said the country would begin building "environmental monitoring stations" on a number of islands this year, the Manila Times reports.
The statement was made by the mayor of Sansha City on Woody Island in the Paracels, from which China exerts its control over a number of disputed islands in the South China Sea. Woody Island itself is also claimed by Taiwan and by Vietnam.
The monitoring stations are said to be part of erosion control and restoration efforts, according to the Washington Times.
China seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and then denied Filipino fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds in the area. The previous Aquino administration of the Philippines took legal action against Beijing and won, with the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague finding in July 2016 that the Philippines does indeed have sovereign rights over a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, which includes the Panatag Shoal.
The Philippines, however, is not insisting that the ruling be followed, a message Duterte carried on his visit to China after the ruling. The island nation wants to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff with the Asian economic powerhouse, the Manila Times reports.
China appears to be accelerating its pace of building on disputed territories. The country is preparing a port and possibly a military installation on one of the Paracel Islands, and is thought to be building surface-to-air missile stations in the Spratly Islands, both of which are also in the South China Sea and which are also claimed credibly by other nations, including the Philippines.
Chinese ships have also been observed this year at the mineral- and natural gas-rich Benham Rise, which is part of the Philippines' extended continental shelf, according to the Manila Times. China also does not recognize the Philippines' sovereignty over the rise.
The Philippines said on March 17 that it intended to strengthen its military presence on disputed territories in the disputed South China Sea, including by building a new port and improving air access infrastructure.
"We will build a runway and a port, a pier, for our ships" on Thitu, one of the Spratly Islands, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana told troops at a Philippines military base, Reuters reported. "We are a bit blind in that area."
Thitu is close to a manmade island in the Spratlys that China is accused of militarizing with missiles and other armaments.