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Title: PNoy: China should recognize PHL's right to defend interests


President Benigno Aquino III on Monday said China should recognize the Philippines' right to defend its interests, following the government's move to proceed with the case challenging Beijing's massive claim over the South China Sea.

In an interview, Aquino said his administration is determined to pursue a "peaceful and rules-based" solution to the Philippines' territorial dispute with China.

"We are not here to challenge China, [or] to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests," Aquino told reporters after the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) graduation rites in Cavite.

He added that he believes China would have also asserted its claims on the disputed territory if it was in the same position as the Philippines.

"If they were in our position, would they have acted differently? Parang different conditions: they are the smaller country, they are the less military capable, they have interests. Will they willingly just forego their interests here? I don’t think so," he said.

Defend territorial integrity

Aquino made these statements after China rejected a "memorial" submitted by the Philippines to a United Nations (UN) arbitration tribunal.

In a statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei insisted that China remains firm on "settling disputes through direct negotiations with countries concerned."

Aquino, however, said that his government has the responsibility to assert the Philippines' territorial integrity, which is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

"I subscribed to this oath when I assumed office. I have to defend national territory and our sovereignty," he said.

On Sunday, the Philippines transmitted to the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration voluminous documents asserting Manila's claims to parts of the South China Sea, which it calls the West Philippine Sea.

Under the arbitration procedure, China is expected to file a counter-memorial after the Philippines transmitted the documents to support its case, but Beijing early on declared that it will not join the proceedings.

'Mission accomplished'

The submission of the memorial came a day after two Chinese ships reportedly blocked a Philippine vessel bringing supplies for Filipino troops stationed at the disputed Ayungin Shoal.

In the same press briefing, Aquino also paid "special tribute" to soldiers who managed to evade the Chinese blockage near the disputed shoal.

"They [soldiers] accomplished the mission without, I believe, increasing the tension and did it in a way na didn’t pose a threat to any other country — again consistent with the peaceful approach," he said.

Aquino also maintained that the Ayungin Shoal is "clearly within" the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, as determined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Andreo Calonzo/KBK, GMA News