The Philippines' biggest warship, the BRP Gergorio del Pilar, is reported to be on a tense standoff with two Chinese naval ships in the Scarborough Shoal, around 124 nautical miles off the coast of Subic Bay in Zambales, Northern Philippines.
The standoff occurred after crew members of the Philippine warship boarded several Chinese fishing vessels for an inspection— knowing they have illegally entered a Philippine territory. The crew discovered among others, large amount of illegally collected corals, live sharks and giant clams.
On Tuesday, two Chinese naval ships have reportedly arrived at the site and prevented Philippine authorities from arresting the Chinese fishermen who were caught illegally fishing inside a Philippine territory.
China has claimed the Scarborough Shoal is a part of Chinese territory but the Philippines says the shoal is well within the Philippine territorial boundaries as it is within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as defined in international law.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario of the Philippines said, both sides are looking at a diplomatic solution to the standoff but expressed the Philippines is prepared for the worst as he summoned the Chinese Ambassador in Manila for an urgent meeting Wednesday.
"If the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure our sovereignty," del Rosario said.
The Philippine Foreign Secretary earlier protested to the Chinese Ambassador in Manila and told her that the navy would enforce Philippine laws.
Additional Philippine Navy vessels are being dispatched to the Shoal, a Philippine Navy official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the situation with the media.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila however, said the area belongs to China and asked the Philippine warship to leave immediately.
The United States has maintained a hands-off attitude on the Spratly territorial dispute but increased military equipment assistance were given to the Philippines in recent months, including the turnover of a warship now known as BRP Gregoria del Pilar, the ship currently involved in the Scarborough Shoal standoff.
The US has yet to issue a statement on the on-going confrontation between the Philippine and Chinese military authorities in Scarborough Shoal.