MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Members of a political party allied with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III marked the country's Independence Day on Thursday by protesting China's moves to reclaim land in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where the two countries are locked in a territorial dispute.
About 200 members and supporters of the Akbayan Party protested peacefully at the Chinese Consulate in Manila on the 116th anniversary of Philippine independence from Spanish colonialism to "assert sovereignty" over the disputed area.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, including the potentially resource-rich Spratly Islands chain, where it has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Disputes among China, Vietnam and the Philippines have intensified this year.
The Spratlys are mostly barren islands, reefs and atolls that are believed to be atop oil and natural gas deposits. They also straddle one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
Last month, the Philippine government released military surveillance photos of Chinese land reclamation on the Johnson South Reef, which is part of the Spratlys and is claimed by Manila. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said then that it was not clear what China would build on the reclaimed land, but that an airstrip was a possibility.
"The increasing aggression of the Chinese government in the West Philippine Sea is a direct affront to the Philippines' independence and sovereignty," Rafaela David, head of Akbayan's youth arm, said in a statement Thursday, using the Philippine name for the disputed area. "We strongly urge the public to wage a new revolution against China's aggression and expansionism."
It was the latest anti-China protest at the Chinese Consulate staged by the group. Last month, members of the party and local Vietnamese residents held a joint protest following the deployment of a Chinese oil rig close to the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by Vietnam.
Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, who joined Thursday's protest, said a Chinese airstrip on the Johnson South Reef would be a "serious threat to Philippine and regional security."
He said Chinese fighter jets would be able to reach "vital economic and military installations" in the Philippines. They also would be able to reach most of Vietnam and the whole of Borneo, which includes Brunei and parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, Golez said.
Last week, Aquino said he was "bothered" by the presence of Chinese vessels capable of reclaiming land in the vicinity of two other Chinese-occupied reefs in the Spratlys called Cuarteron and Gaven, which are also claimed by the Philippines. Philippine military officials later said reclamation was underway at the two reefs.
China has maintained it has sovereignty over the reefs and ignored Manila's protests.