"We do not wish to increase tensions with anyone, but we must let the world know that we are ready to protect what is ours," Mr Aquino said in his State of the Nation Address, drawing loud applause at the packed House of Representatives on July 25.
President Benigno Aquino III
President Benigno Aquino III
Mr Aquino did not mention China, which claims the entire East Sea and has been accused by both the Philippines and Vietnam of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claims to the area. But the President clearly referred to Asia's rising military power when he mentioned Recto Bank - internationally known as the Reed Bank - as clearly belonging to the Philippines as a popular downtown Manila street bears the same name.
"There was a time when we couldn't appropriately respond to threats in our own backyard. Now, our message to the world is clear: What is ours is ours; setting foot on Recto Bank is no different from setting foot on Recto Avenue," said Mr Aquino.
The President said the Philippines' very first Hamilton-class cutter, which was acquired from the United States, was already on its way to the country.
"We may acquire more vessels in the future, these in addition to helicopters and patrol craft and the weapons that (we) will buy in bulk to get a significant discount," said Mr Aquino.
The Philippines has alleged that Chinese forces have repeatedly intruded into Manila-claimed areas in and near the Spratlys since February, including at the Reed Bank. Chinese officials have said there were no intrusions because those waters belonged to China.
The East Sea is claimed in its entirety or partly by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei. They are believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.
The Philippines has said it intends to bring the Spratlys disputes before the UN's International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. China opposed the plan and wants to negotiate bilaterally instead.
Mr Aquino said yesterday that bringing the case before an international arbiter would ensure that "all involved nations approach the dispute with calm and forbearance".
The President's reference to the Spratlys in an address to mark the one-year anniversary of his inauguration followed a visit by Filipino lawmakers on July 20 to a Philippine-occupied island in the disputed area.
The one-day visit to Pag-asa Island led a Chinese Embassy spokesman to say that Beijing would relay its "great concern" to the Philippine government over the trip.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Sunday that disputes in the East Sea threaten to disrupt one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
There has been an increase in "intimidations, the ramming, the cuttings of cables - the kinds of things that will raise the cost of business for everyone", Mrs Clinton said on Sunday in Bali, Indonesia, where she had attended a meeting of Asian security officials.
" ... It's important for us to support freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce," she added.
At the Bali meeting, China and the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations agreed to draft guidelines for behaviour in the East Sea. However, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario was quoted as saying that with no teeth, even such guidelines would be meaningless.