Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned Chinese actions following confrontations between the two countries' vessels in the South China Sea over the weekend, saying his government remains "undeterred" by Beijing's "aggression and provocations."

"No one but the Philippines has a legitimate right or legal basis to operate anywhere in the West Philippine Sea," Marcos said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.

The West Philippine Sea is the local name for parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

He added that China's "illegal presence in our waters and dangerous actions against our citizens is an outright and blatant violation of international law and the rules-based international order."

A China Coast Guard vessel fires a water canon at a Filipino vessel near Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on Dec. 10, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Coast Guard)(AP/Kyodo)

A series of confrontations between Philippine vessels and China's coast guard and navy took place over the weekend, with Marcos saying the incidents only "further steeled our determination to defend and protect our nation's sovereignty." A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China's sweeping claims to the resource-rich sea, but Beijing has rejected the decision.

Manila accused the China Coast Guard of firing a water canon at three government vessels that were delivering fuel subsidies to Filipino fishermen in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal, about 124 nautical miles off the Philippine province of Zambales on Saturday.

A China Coast Guard vessel also used its water cannon on Sunday, while another rammed a Philippine Coast Guard ship and two boats while delivering supplies to Filipino soldiers on the Manila-held Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles west of the Philippine island of Palawan.

The Philippines has said the Second Thomas and Scarborough shoals are within its exclusive economic zone over which it has sovereign rights.

One of the Philippine supply boats suffered water cannon damage and had to be towed back to land. The other, which was rammed by a Chinese vessel, had the Philippines' top military official Romeo Brawner Jr. onboard, who said on Monday he was "very furious" about the incident.

China defended its actions on Monday, saying Chinese vessels took "necessary measures according to domestic and international law" and that their operation was "professional and restrained."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Beijing has "lodged a strong protest" with Manila over the incident, claiming the Philippines' ships violated China's sovereignty and jeopardized the safety of the country's ships and personnel.

Mao urged the Philippines to "stop provocations," vowing that Beijing will continue to take necessary measures to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests.

Brawner said he saw at least 40 China Coast Guard, Navy and militia boats and believes the presence of an unusually large number of vessels had to do with a separate civilian-led flotilla of boats headed to the vicinity of the Second Thomas Shoal to deliver Christmas presents to soldiers stationed in some of the Philippine-controlled marine features.

The first-ever civilian activity in the South China Sea dubbed "Atin Ito" (This is ours) was also aimed at asserting the Philippines' claim to the territory.

Civic group members wave Filipino flags as a fleet of fishing boats greets their vessel near El Nido on the western Philippine island of Palawan on Dec. 11, 2023, after its journey to the Second Thomas Shoal to deliver Christmas presents to soldiers was interrupted by a China Coast Guard ship. (Kyodo)

Kyodo News was among over 50 local and foreign journalists aboard one of the three boats -- accompanied by a Philippine Coast Guard ship -- that was adorned with colorful Christmas lights and decor and Philippine flags.

The media boat was intercepted by a China Coast Guard ship and two Chinese naval vessels halfway through the trip, about 160 nautical miles from El Nido town in Palawan on Sunday afternoon.

Upon seeing the Coast Guard ship speeding toward the convoy, the Philippine captain decided to cut the trip short and return to land. "I may be called a coward's for the safety of our ship...I'm very sorry," the captain said to reporters and about 70 civilian volunteers.

Rafaela David, one of the activity organizers, said she was "dismayed" but still considered the attempt "a major feat."

"We are trying to stand up to China and we are resolved to continue forward," she said.

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