• Philippines to China: We’ll defend our territory

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    The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines will “defend what is ours” as tension looms in a stand-off over a Chinese warship circling a West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) reef occupied by Filipino marines.

    The Philippines this week protested the “provocative and illegal presence” of the warship near Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), but China brushed off the complaint with an insistence that the area was part of its territory.

    Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Her­nandez said on Thursday the warship, along with two patrol vessels and a fleet of Chinese fishing boats, remained near the shoal.

    “They should not be there. They do not have the right to be there . . . no one should doubt the resolve of the Filipino people to defend what is ours in that area,” Hernandez said in a text message to Agence France-Presse.

    “Our navy and our Coast Guard are mandated to enforce the laws of the (Philippine) republic.”

    Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the military continues to monitor the situation in the shoal but no additional forces or ships will be deployed there so as not to add to the tension.

    Gazmin said Ayungin Shoal is only 120 nautical miles from Rizal, Palawan and indisputably belongs to the Philippines.

    Based on the military’s latest aerial monitoring, there were two big Chinese merchant ships, a military frigate ship and more than 10 fishing vessels in Ayungin, Gazmin said,
    “another evidence of a violation of our territory.”

    He also viewed the deployment of a frigate as “too much of a violation” by the Chinese, it being a military ship that has intruded into the country’s territory.

    Armed Forces public affairs office chief Maj. Ramon Zagala said the military “wants to deescalate” but is at the same time “preparing for contingencies.”

    “The Armed Forces of the Philippines supports the diplomatic actions or the protest by our government as a peaceful means to resolve but in any case we continue to monitor the Kalayaan Island Group through maritime patrols,” Zagala said.

    Gazmin warned though, that the non-deployment of more troops should not be misconstrued as a sign of weakness because Filipino soldiers are ready to fight “for what is ours.”

    China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters far away from its main landmass and approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the area, which for decades been regarded as a potential trigger for major military conflict in the region.

    Second Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef are within the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone, and surrounding waters are rich fishing grounds.

    Last year, China took control of Scarborough Shoal, another bountiful fishing area far closer to a Philippine landmass than China, after a similar stand-off ended with the Philippines retreating.

    AFP With report from William B. Depasupil

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