Manila: The Philippines on Tuesday accused China of laying concrete blocks on a small group of reefs and rocky outcrops within its territory, the latest escalation in a hostile maritime dispute.
Defence department spokesman Peter Galvez released to the media an aerial photograph of what he said were about 30 blocks on Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
"It`s unfortunate that they keep on doing activities that do not contribute to our pursuit towards regional peace," Galvez told reporters.
Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin briefed members of parliament about the issue today, telling them the concrete blocks were a "prelude to construction", according to Galvez.
Galvez said the photograph was taken from a Philippine Navy plane on Saturday, and three Chinese coastguard vessels were also observed there.
a news agency could not immediately verify the photograph. When asked for comment, Chinese embassy spokesman Hua Zhang told a news agency by email, "I will look into it."
Scarborough Shoal is about 220 kilometres off the main Philippine island of Luzon, within the country`s internationally recognised exclusive economic zone.
The outcrop is about 650 kilometres from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.
China claims most of the South China Sea, including waters close to the coasts of the Philippines and other neighbours.
The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent years repeatedly accused China of becoming more aggressive in staking its claims to the disputed waters, which are believed to sit atop vast gas and oil reserves.
The Philippines says China has effectively occupied Scarborough Shoal, home to rich fishing grounds, since last year by stationing vessels there and banning Filipino fishermen.
Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea, and the rivalries have been a source of tension for decades.
Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China, in particular, have become increasingly tense in recent years.
The Philippines angered China in January this year by asking a United Nations tribunal to rule on the validity of the Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea.
China rejects international arbitration, preferring to deal with the issue on a bilateral basis while maintaining it has sole territorial rights.
Legislator Walden Bello, who attended Gazmin`s briefing on today, told a news agency Filipino politicians were concerned China could be laying the foundations for a military garrison on Scarborough Shoal.