PHILIPPINE Coast Guard officers at their base in Kalayaan Island in this file photo. -- PCG

THE PHILIPPINES on Thursday told China to “back off” after three Chinese Coast Guard vessels illegally blocked and discharged water cannons on boats that were carrying supply to a military post on a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.

Acting Presidential Spokesman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, in a statement on Thursday, said the Philippines condemns and will not back down from Chinese provocation.

“As we have done in the past, we will continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over our territory,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., in a separate statement earlier on Thursday, asserted that the “acts of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels are illegal.”

“China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” Mr. Locsin said

“Fortunately, no one was hurt; but our boats had to abort their resupply mission,” he said.

The top envoy pointed out that Ayungin Shoal, where the resupply boats were headed on Tuesday, is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

There will be no changes in the Philippines’ provision of supplies to troops in Ayungin Shoal, he added. “We do not ask permission to do what we need to do in our territory.”

Mr. Locsin said he conveyed the country’s “outrage, condemnation, and protest of the incident” to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila has yet to issue a statement on the incident.

“This failure to exercise self-restraint threatens the special relationship between the Philippines and China that President Rodrigo R. Duterte and President Xi Jin Ping have worked hard to nurture,” Mr. Locsin said.

He said he also “reminded China that a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Earlier this week, the United States reiterated its vow to assist the Philippines in case of an attack on its vessels in the South China Sea.

“You have our word and our commitment,” US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink said during a bilateral strategic dialogue.

He affirmed the United Nations-backed arbitral award that invalidated China’s claim to more than 80% of the waterway, and the application of the Mutual Defense Treaty in case of an armed attack on Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the waterway.

Under the treaty, both sides must help each other in case of any external aggression.

Several Philippine senators also issued statements condemning China’s action.

Senator and presidential aspirant Panfilo M. Lacson told the media on Thursday that diplomatic protests are not enough to stop China from bullying the Philippines.

“We are not satisfied with just filing diplomatic protests (against China). We should have an alliance with stronger countries — militarily strong countries — through our existing bilateral agreements,” said Mr. Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on National Defense.

He said the country cannot win against China’s military capability, so the strategic response would be to work with other nations in the name of “balance of power” to stop being “push-overs.”

The South China Sea, a key shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial disputes involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan