Manila has 'plan in place to resupply marines'

This file photo taken on August 6, 2013 shows the Philippine Navy high-endurance Hamilton-class cutter, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, that had been decomissioned by the US Coast Guard and acquired by Manila.

THE Philippines said it already has a plan in place to resupply a small group of marines stationed at a World War II-era ship it ran aground in 1999 to stake its claim over a reef in the South China Sea.

This comes as China boosted its presence around the reef - known internationally as Second Thomas Shoal - located 169km from the Philippine mainland. On Sunday, Chinese Coast Guard cutters drove away two Philippine supply ships bound for the reef. Beijing claimed the boats were carrying construction materials for a structure to reinforce Manila's makeshift outpost there.

"We already have a plan in place. We know what to do," a ranking armed forces officer told The Straits Times on Wednesday on condition he not be named as he was not authorised to issue public statements.

He declined to elaborate, but the Philippine Navy had in the past used fishing boats to resupply the marines, and a senior Navy officer said it was just "a matter of rescheduling".

A Reuters report said the Navy air-dropped food and water on Monday. "But it will only last a few days. We really have to send back the civilian boats," the Navy officer said.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said the US is troubled by the Chinese move.

"This is a provocative move that raises tensions. Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo," she said on Wednesday.

In 1999, the Philippine Navy ran aground the Sierra Madre, a tank-landing ship repurposed as a floating helicopter and speedboat hub, on the reef and stationed marines there to stop China from expanding further from nearby Mischief Reef.

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