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Sino ships off Ayungin Shoal

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MANILA -- Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed that Chinese fishing ships, along with a naval vessel, are fishing off Ayungin Shoal which is part of the Spratlys Island Group being claimed by the Philippines.

"They are fishing in our territory," he said in Filipino.

Gazmin added that all the ships were positively seen flying the Chinese flag.

The DND chief added that the Philippines will deal with the issue "calmly," by filing a diplomatic protest through the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"We will do this in a calm manner so that it will not be interpreted that we are looking for a fight," he stated.

Faced with an ongoing diplomatic row with Taiwan and a long-standing territorial dispute with China, President Benigno Aquino III yesterday rallied Navy troops, saying the Philippines will not be cowed by threats including those from the outside.

"Sa ilalim ng ating agenda ng mabuting pamamahala, malinaw ang pahiwatig natin ngayon sa buong mundo: Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas, at kaya nating pumalag at ipagtanggol ang sarili tuwing may sisindak sa atin sa loob at labas ng bansa," Aquino said.

Aquino, the military's commander-in-chief, said the Philippines is "capable" of defending itself against internal and external security threats, and assured military officials that his administration is committed to modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

"Makakaasa naman kayo na tinutumbasan na ng ating gobyerno ang inaalay ninyong serbisyo. Walang duda: Tapos na ang panahon ng pambabalewala sa mga nagmamalasakit sa bayan," he said.

The President further said that his government is planning to procure more equipment for the Navy, including multi-purpose attack crafts, amphibious assault vehicles, frigates and helicopters.

In the end, however, Aquino reminded military officials to exercise "calmness and temperance" in the face of internal and external threats to the country.

Aquino gave the statement while the Philippines is engaged in a diplomatic row with Taiwan over the fatal shooting of 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-Cheng in disputed waters at the Balintang Channel in extreme northern Luzon.

Authorities from the Philippine Coast Guard said they shot the fisherman in self-defense. Aquino has already apologized to Taiwan for the incident, but Taiwanese officials had rejected the apology and imposed sanctions on the Philippines, including a travel ban and freeze-hiring of Filipino employees.

The Philippines also has a long-standing territorial dispute with China over parts of the West Philippine Sea, including the resource-rich Spratly Islands.

The Spratly Islands, a string of atolls and islands believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, is also being claimed in part by Taiwan,Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. (With reports from the Philippine News Agency and GMA News)