MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Navy has removed markers in the West Philippine Sea that were placed by Chinese forces.
One was removed from the Reed Bank, which is now known as Recto Bank, one was taken from the Boxall Reef, while another from Douglas Bank.
The markers were placed by China without permission.
Meanwhile, Chinese and Vietnamese poachers are often sighted by villagers in Barangay Simpokan, Puerto Princesa, whose shores face the disputed Spratlys.
However, barangay officials, armed with only one patrol boat, can't go after them.
The Philippine Air Force recently observed Chinese and Vietnamese forces upgrading their facilities on the Spratly Islands.
In August, a second-hand ship from the U.S. Coast Guard will augment Philippine Navy forces in Palawan.
U.S. support for Philippines
The U.S. has also waded in on the Spratlys dispute.
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas said being a treaty ally, America will support the Philippines.
"I wanna assure you that on all subjects, we, the United States, are with the Philippines. The Philippines and the United States are strategic treaty allies," he said. "We will continue to consult and work with each other on all issues including the South China Sea and Spratly Islands."
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchao earlier said Washington should not interfere in the issue, since it is not a party to the Spratlys dispute.
This was echoed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei after Vietnam also asked the U.S. for help.
The U.S., however, did not categorically state if its support would include military aid if the tension gives way to armed conflict.
President Benigno Aquino III, meanwhile, is happy with Thomas' statement.
Aquino is insisting on the Philippines' right to search for oil within its territory.
He invoked the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that states a country's territory extends 200 nautical miles from its shores.
Recto Bank is 80 nautical miles from Palawan, and is 576 miles away from China.
"So 576 is obviously greater than 200. So suddenly why should there be a dispute if we are conforming to international law?" Aquino asked.
"Siyempre they are a superpower, they have more than 10 times our population, we do not want any hostility to break out. Perhaps the presence of our treaty partner, which is the United States of America, ensures that all of us will have freedom of navigation."
The Philippines and China, however, both reiterate that they would like to peacefully settle the Spratlys dispute.