THE Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) yesterday took delivery of assets meant to upgrade its sea patrol capabilities and response to natural disasters.

The new assets include 73 rubber boats with outboard motors, 12 rigid-hulled inflatable boats, 90 pickup trucks, seven buses and five ambulances.

China’s neighbors are racing to empower their Coast Guard fleets amid increasing tensions in the South China Sea.

China has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and setting up installations including several runways. China claims sovereignty over more than 80 percent of the waterway based on its so-called nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map.

“These new assets boost our men’s morale and see the silver lining to the challenging times and rainy days ahead,” Admiral Elson E. Hermogino said in ceremonies yesterday.

Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said the Coast Guard can perform its duties more efficiently using the new equipment.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has sought closer investment and trade ties with Beijing, including over resources in the South China Sea, since taking power in 2016.

On June 9, a Filipino fishing boat sank after colliding with a Chinese vessel at the disputed Reed Bank. The president has called the collision a “little” maritime incident.

His predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino III, sued China before an international arbitration tribunal over its territorial claims, and won. He also strengthened Philippine alliance with the US to try to check China’s expansion in the main waterway. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas