MANILA -- The Philippines on Monday lashed out at China's "dangerous maneuver" in the South China Sea after Manila conducted maritime patrols to assert its claims over the disputed waters.
Manila and Beijing have been engaged in an open, verbal tussle since March over dozens of Chinese ships spotted in Philippines' exclusive economic zone. The feud is one of the longest under President Rodrigo Duterte who had forged closer ties with China since he took office mid-2016.
On Monday, Manila's Department of Foreign Affairs said it had "protested the shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuver, and radio challenges by the Chinese Coast Guard of the Philippine Coast Guard vessels conducting maritime patrols and training exercises" near the Scarborough Shoal on April 24 and 25.
The foreign ministry added it also protested the "incessant, illegal, prolonged and increasing presence of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime militia vessels in Philippine maritime zones" from Jan. 1 to March 18.
On Twitter, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. ramped up Manila's rhetoric by swearing at China. The Chinese embassy in Manila has yet to comment on the remarks.
Defying pressure from Beijing to stop the exercises, Duterte last week backed maritime patrols in what Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.
"China, let it be known, is a good friend, and we do not want a trouble with them, especially a war," Duterte said in a public address, citing Beijing's COVID vaccine donations. "But there are things which are not really subject to a compromise."
Tensions in the vital waterway rose in March when a Philippine government task force said it spotted over 200 Chinese vessels moored in Whitsun Reef in the disputed Spratly area. China, which claims nearly the entire South China Sea, said Whitsun is part of its territory.
The presence of the Chinese flotilla triggered a robust response from the Philippines, which has asked China to withdraw its ships. Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana accused Beijing of planning to occupy more "features" in the South China Sea. The foreign affairs department, meanwhile, vowed to file diplomatic protests every day until Chinese vessels leave.
China in 2012 took control of Scarborough Shoal after a monthslong standoff with the Philippines. Scarborough is located around 124 nautical miles off the western Philippines coastal province of Zambales and approximately 472 nautical miles from the nearest coast of China.