THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE on Thursday dismissed reports that China was conducting oil exploration in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.

“We’re confident that there’s no exploration happening at Scarborough Shoal,” presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing in mixed English and Filipino.

The government would only seek an explanation from China once the country’s maritime security forces, who have been patrolling the area, confirm the report, he added.

Filipino fishermen from Infanta, Pangasinan in northern Philippines supposedly found an oil exploration device at sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone. The equipment bore Chinese characters, they said.

The ocean bottom seismometer found by local fishermen is widely used for oil exploration and detecting earthquakes, the People’s Development Institute earlier said.

The group said the device could have been washed away from the resource-rich Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines calls Panatag.

The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday said it had driven away a Chinese warship in the South China Sea, in another sign of tension between the two nations.

The Coast Guard had sent a verbal challenge to a Chinese warship spotted at Marie Louise Bank, it said, citing a July 13 report. The Chinese vessel eventually moved away from the area.

The foreign vessel sent a radio message identifying itself as “Chinese Navy Warship 189” and asked the Philippine ship tailing it to keep distance, the Coast Guard said.

The two nations’ vessels have been locked in a standoff in the South China Sea for months after hundreds of Chinese ships swarmed the disputed territory earlier this year.

The Philippines has repeatedly protested the ships’ presence and has been backed by the US, while Beijing has said its actions were normal and legitimate.

The Philippines under the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III sued China before the arbitration court in the Hague given its island-building and military activities in the South China Sea. The court in 2016 favored the Philippines in a decision that China has ignored.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who has sought closer trade and investment ties with China since he became President in 2016, in March belittled the legal victory, saying it was just a piece of paper that could end up in a trash bin.

“I pursued it but nothing happened,” he said in a televised speech in Filipino on May 5. He added that between scalawags, one could always say that “it’s just a piece of paper and I would throw it in the waste basket.”

Philippine legislators have been urging Mr. Duterte to boost Philippine alliance with the US. The tough-talking leader had criticized the US for what he claimed was its ill treatment of its former colony.

Under Mr. Aquino’s watch, the Philippines signed an enhanced defense cooperation pact with the US, the country’s key western ally.

Mr. Duterte had not decided whether to keep a visiting forces agreement with the US, his spokesman earlier said.

The President in February last year said he would end the deal on the deployment of troops for war games after the US Embassy canceled the visa of his ally Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, his former police chief who led his deadly war on drugs.

US-based geospatial imagery firm Simularity, Inc. has said Chinese ships could also be dumping human wastes in other parts of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza