Philippine President Benigno Aquino III vowed yesterday that his country would not back down from any challenge to its sovereignty and territory amid a maritime dispute with China.
He said in a speech marking the 115th anniversary of the country’s independence from Spain that the Philippines has not claimed territory that clearly belongs to another country, but only asks that “our territory, rights and dignity be respected.”
“Aggression does not run in our veins, but neither will we back down from any challenge,” Aquino told government workers, diplomats and supporters at a public square named after Philippine revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio, where he also led a flag-raising ceremony.
Aquino said in the next five years, 75 billion pesos (US$1.74 billion) would be spent to modernize the armed forces.
He did not mention China by name, but the two countries have an ongoing territorial row in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), also claimed by Taiwan.
Last month, the Philippines protested the presence of a Chinese warship, two surveillance vessels and fishing boats off a shoal occupied by Philippine troops in the Spratlys in the latest territorial squabble between the two nations.
Ayungin Shoal lies 196km from the southwestern Philippine province of Palawan. It is guarded by a Philippine marine unit based in a rusty warship that ran aground on a coral outcrop several years ago. The shoal is near Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁), which the Philippines had claimed, but which was occupied by China in 1995, sparking intense protests from Manila.
Chinese maritime surveillance ships have also taken control of the Scarborough Shoal. The shoal is known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in China and Taiwan, which also lay claim to it.
China has roped off the entrance to the shoal’s vast fishing lagoon following a two-month standoff with Philippine government ships last year.
The chain of reefs and rocks 230km west of the northwestern Philippine province of Zambales falls under its 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone, Philippine officials say.
Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of the Spratlys, a chain of islands, islets and reefs.
On Tuesday, about 30 protesters wearing colorful fish masks gathered outside China’s consular office in Manila to demand a stop to Chinese intrusions into Philippine-claimed islands in the Spratlys.