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September 27, 2017

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Manila to boost defense, won't yield on S. China Sea

MANILA, Philippines -- President Benigno Aquino III said Monday that the Philippines won't back down from a South China Sea dispute with China and that his country's military would soon get dozens of new aircraft and ships for maritime defense.

Aquino announced during his annual state of the nation address that more than 40 military aircraft — from two newly refurbished C-130 cargo planes to attack helicopters — along with other weapons would be delivered in the next two years to bolster Philippine military muscle.

A second U.S. Coast Guard cutter would arrive soon from longtime ally, the United States. A refurbished Coast Guard cutter from the U.S. was relaunched by the Philippine navy last year.

Washington has also provided US$30 million to strengthen the Philippine military aside from U.S. help in establishing a national coast watch center that would help protect the archipelago's 36,000-kilometer (22,370-mile) coastline, according to Aquino.

But he stressed that the Philippines was aiming to forge a peaceful solution that would be acceptable to China.

A standoff erupted in April between Chinese and Philippine ships at the Scarborough Shoal, which both countries claim. China calls the shoal Huangyan Island while Manila identifies it as Bajo de Masinloc. Aquino withdrew his country's ships from the contested area last month as tensions with Beijing escalated, but Chinese government ships have stayed.

"There are those who say that we should let Bajo de Masinloc go. We should avoid the trouble," Aquino said in his nationally televised speech before Congress. "But if someone entered your yard and told you he owned it, would you agree? Would it be right to give away that which is rightfully ours?"

"I do not think it excessive to ask that our rights be respected, just as we respect their rights as a fellow nation in a world we need to share," Aquino said, referring to China.

About 6,000 police officers were deployed to secure the House of Representatives, where Aquino spoke, and nearby roads. Several people were injured when riot police clashed with thousands of left-wing and trade union protesters, who were seeking higher wages, land reform and a stop to alleged human rights violations.

A large part of Aquino's speech was devoted to the economic reforms he said had been achieved since his administration took over from his graft-tainted predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, in June, 2010.

Aquino cited as evidence economic growth of 6.4 percent for the Philippines in the first quarter of the year, one of the best in the region, as well as repeated credit ratings upgrades from international agencies.

He said his government had given millions of poor Filipinos greater access to health and education services, and that the unemployment rate had dropped from 8.0 percent in 2010 to 6.9 percent this year.

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