Chief of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has scoffed at Beijing’s claims over the regional islands near the Philippines, vowing to defend his country’s fishermen against the Chinese navy.
General Emmanuel Bautista on Thursday rejected Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea as “nonsensical.”
He said if Filipino ships are attacked by Beijing’s naval forces there, Manila will rush to their help.
“Our fishermen will continue on fishing, assert their rights on those areas. They should go on with their lives and live their life as fishermen, not to bow down to terror or intimidation,” Bautista said in an interview with the Associated Press.
He made the comments after an incident in which he said a fishing vessel belonging to the Philippines was sprayed by a water cannon on a Chinese boat.
The row over the South China Sea stems from competing interests of neighbors over oil and gas deposits there.
China and the Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
Beijing has laid claim to the largest portion of the contested waterways.
Manila says Chinese vessels have effectively occupied a rich fishing area called Scarborough Shoal, which lies some 220 km (135 miles) off its main island but is 650 km from the nearest major Chinese land mass.
Manila announced last year it has taken its claims to a UN-backed tribunal, asking it to rule Beijing’s South China Sea claim is invalid.
But China has insisted instead on one-on-one negotiations to resolve the territorial conflicts.
The Philippines has rejected such negotiations.