The Gag order comes after prime ministers criticized Beijing over the presence of Chinese ships in the disputed waterway.
Rodrigo Duterte, the head of the Philippines, banned his cabinet from publicly discussing the South China Sea conflict after chief ministers reprimanded Beijing for the presence of Chinese ships in the disputed waterway.
Duterte, however, stressed on Tuesday that the gag order does not mean that the Philippines is rushing to defend the sovereign right.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea – which China claims are almost entirely – erupted in March after hundreds of Chinese ships were spotted inside the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or West Philippine Sea. .
While Duterte has refused to address China on the issue, his foreign and defense secretaries have repeatedly criticized Beijing – including an expletive -laden tweet – for its refusal to remove ships from disputed waters.
In a televised speech on Monday, Duterte said: “It is my order now in the cabinet, and in all speaking for the government, to refrain from mentioning the West Philippine Sea to anyone.”
“When we talk, we talk but between us,” he said.
But the Philippine leader later clarified his command should not be construed as weakness and on Tuesday said maritime patrols should continue.
“Our agencies are mandated to do what they need and need to protect and safeguard the interests of our country,” Duterte said in a statement. “We will not tremble in our position.”
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea and has built missile-equipped military installations on reefs in disputed areas, including the Philippine EEZ, with the constant presence of security guards. beach and fishing.
While China’s behavior has been a constant problem for Duterte, the Philippine president has avoided criticizing Beijing and instead praised its leadership, hoping to secure more investments.
But his approach failed the nationalists.
Early in May, Duterte’s Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. took to Twitter to ask China to leave the waterway.
“China, my friend, how polite am I? Look at me… O… EXCEPT F ***, ”Locsin wrote.
The foreign secretary’s oath online prompted a rebuke from Beijing and he later apologized to his Chinese counterpart.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters on Tuesday that Locsin was still allowed to address the issue publicly, as it was part of his portfolio.
“The president’s instruction is clear. Only the foreign secretary and I myself can speak on the issue today,” Roque said at the press briefing.
Analysts say the gag order may reduce tension at the rhetorical level.
“President Duterte may know it’s time for his administration to speak in a voice with a different signal,” said Aaron Jed Rabena of Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress, a Manila-based think-tank. .
He told the Reuters news agency that various messages showed “a government that disagrees”.