Fort San Felipe, Cavite City – The Philippines can fight back if threatened, President Benigno Aquino III said today, as tensions continued in seas north and west of the country.

“Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas, kaya nating pumalag sa tuwing may maninindak,” Aquino said in a speech at the Philippine Navy’s 115th anniversary here.

“Patuloy ang pagdagsa ng mga banta mula sa loob at labas ng bansa,” he said.

The President made the remarks five days after Taiwan conducted naval exercises in waters near Batanes on May 16.

The military drills came after Philippine Coast Guard personnel shot a Taiwan-registered boat near the same area, killing one fisherman.

Taiwan also recalled its de-facto envoy to Manila and froze the hiring of Filipino workers, prompting Aquino to apologize for the shooting.

Some observers say Taiwan could be using the shooting issue to bring forward talks that are aimed at getting rights to fish in Philippine waters.

“At the end of the day, what they want is a fishing concession. They want to poach legally in our waters,” a former military official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Currently, Taiwan fishermen are “borrowing” permits from some Filipinos so they can fish in Philippine waters, the official said.

Authorities usually let the Taiwanese go after seeing the permits, he added.

Aquino told reporters that the government will first finish probing the shooting incident before engaging Taiwan in any fisheries talks.

“‘Yung sa fisheries ay ating pinaaaral rin ‘yung mga limitasyon natin. ‘Yung guarding the national patrimony provisions of the Constitution will come into play,” he said.

Aside from Taiwan, the Philippines is also facing issues with China over the latter’s fishing trips to the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese are fishing at Ayungin shoal, one of the Philippines’ territories in the Spratly Islands, “escorted” by a vessel of their navy, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said. (John Roson)

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