Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday urged other countries to respect his country's territorial sovereignty and vowed not to "back down from any challenge."
Speaking at the 115th anniversary celebration of the Philippine' Independence Day, Aquino said, "Our territory, rights and dignity (must) be respected, in the same way that we have respected the territory, rights and dignity of other peoples."
The Philippines has accused China of aggressively asserting its "excessive and baseless" claim over the entire South China Sea, parts or all of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Aquino said mutual respect is the "key to maintaining stability and widespread and lasting progress, not only in our country, but also in our region and in the whole world."
Manila has repeatedly protested to China over its presence in the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal, and has taken the disputes up at the United Nations.
"As we stand for our rights, we must continue exhibiting the values Filipinos are known for. Aggression does not run in our veins, but neither will we back down from any challenge. We have no other desire than to take care of what is rightfully ours," Aquino said.
The Philippine president went on to say, "We never trampled upon the rights of others" and "have not claimed or demanded territory that clearly belongs to others," adding that "The whole world has witnessed our willingness to sit down and conduct dialogue in a peaceful manner."
But he added that while trying to build consensus among claimant states, "we must also increase the capabilities of our armed forces."
Aquino said the government has allocated a budget of 75 billion pesos (almost $1.8 billion) for national defense over the next five years.
The Philippines is set to strengthen its navy with a second battle-ready Hamilton-class cutter, which will arrive in Manila from the United States in August. The first was delivered in 2011 amid tense relations with China.
The Philippines' "Independence Day" celebration marked the successful uprising in 1898 against Spanish colonizers who ruled the country for more than 300 years.