The move comes after more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels were spotted off Whitsun Reef earlier this month.
The Philippine Air Force conducts daily air patrols over Chinese fishing vessels stationed near a disputed reef, the country’s defense chief said, as he repeated a call to Beijing for them. withdrawal from their area.
The diplomatic row was sparked earlier this month when some 220 boats were first Point at the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef, west of Palawan Island.
The Philippines has ordered China to recall the ships, describing their presence as an incursion into its sovereign territory. But China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea, said the flotilla was made up of fishing vessels sheltered from the elements.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry lodged a diplomatic protest, while several countries – including the United States and Australia – expressed concern over the renewed tension in the region.
Philippine Navy and Coast Guard vessels have been deployed to the area to monitor the situation, in addition to air patrols, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the Philippine marine resources,” Lorenzana said on Saturday evening.
He added that there will be an “increased presence” of Navy and Coast Guard vessels patrolling Philippine waters.
The resource-rich South China Sea is contested by several countries, including the Philippines and China.
Beijing often invokes the so-called nine-dash line to justify its claimed historic rights over most of it, and has ignored a 2016 international tribunal ruling that declared that claim to be baseless.
On Thursday, spokesman Harry Roque said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had expressed concern on the presence of ships to the Chinese Ambassador in Manila.
Duterte is be in a hurry to take a stronger stand against the Chinese government in the face of a separate revelation of “significant construction activity” by China on an artificial island built above Subi Reef, also in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
“The volume of changes is large and may indicate the first phases of major construction on Subi Reef,” according to Simularity, a US-based technology company that has studied satellite imagery in the South China Sea.
Duterte favored warmer ties with China since taking office in 2016 in exchange for increased economic cooperation with its superpowered neighbor.
But this change has failed to stem Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea, nor to unlock much of the billions of dollars in trade and loans pledged.