BEIJING (AFP) - An anchor on China's state-run television network accidentally declared the Philippines a part of China, in an embarrassing gaffe as tensions between the two nations run high.
He Jia, anchor for China Central Television's (CCTV) nationally televised news broadcast, made the claim during a late Monday broadcast that has been repeatedly replayed on the Internet.
The presenter apparently meant to say that the Huangyan islands - known in the Philippines as the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, and claimed by both nations - is China's territory.
"We all know that the Philippines is China's inherent territory and the Philippines belongs to Chinese
farmers' income and provide opportunities to modernize their production and post-harvest capabilities."
Viewers joked in online postings that the presenter's nationalistic fervor led to her mistake.
"This anchor woman is great, a good patriot, she has announced to the world the the Philippines belongs to China," said a microblogger named helenjhuang.
"We should attack directly, send (Philippine President Benigno) Aqui¬no packing and take back our inherent territory."
Another microblogger named kongdehua said, "the Philippines have basically been making irrational trouble, if they want to start a war then we will strike, no one fears them.
"If every Chinese spat once, we could drown (the Philippines)."
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said late Monday Beijing was ready for "any escalation" of the maritime standoff with the Philippines that has become one of the most high-profile flare ups over the South China Seas and its vast oil and gas deposits in years.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda yesterday asserted that the Philippines has not done anything to escalate tensions in Panatag Shoal.
"So far, we've not done anything to provoke and the instruction of the President was very clear: we do not wish to escalate tension," Lacierda said at a Malacanang press briefing.
"The only thing we're doing right now is to document the situation right now in Panatag Shoal and if ever there are incidents . . . we will report it."
Describing the situation at Panatag Shoal as "relatively calm," he also belied reports that China now has 33 vessels in the area.
"There was a statement that there were about 33 (vessels). I clarified it with Commodore Edmund Tan of the PCG (Philippine Coast Guard), there are only seven fishing vessels and two FLEC (fisheries law enforcement command) and two maritime vessels so there were 11. The 33 that was reported are not really vessels but rubber boats," Lacierda said.
He said there are five Filipino fishing boats, one Philippine Coast Guard vessel, and another from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
In a separate statement, the Philippine Coast Guard said Filipino fishermen are still operating at the rich fishing ground contrary to reports that they have been barred from the area by Chinese vessels.
"There is no report such as that. We keep on patrolling the area," said PCG commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan.
He was reacting to the statements made by a local government of Zambales province that fishermen can no longer be found fishing at the Panatag Shoal as they fear for the safety due to the standoff.
"Our fishermen can still go there to fish," said Tan. "They are the ones saying it, not us," he added.
The PCG has even encouraged fishermen near the Panatag Shoal to assert the country's sovereignty by fishing in the lagoon.
"We are asking the Filipino fishermen from Bataan, Zambales and Pampanga to fish in the area. The Bajo de Masinloc is our own so do not be afraid, we have a PCG vessel there," Tan said.
In Congress, House leaders called on President Aquino to be firm in asserting the nation's rights over the disputed shoal but through diplomatic means.
Deputy Speaker and Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla said Chinese claims that it was prepared to assert jurisdic¬tion over the disputed seas should be expected.
"I would be more surprised if they weren't prepared. I think the Philippines is being used as an experiment to gauge the US' response to a crisis in the West Philippine Sea. The Aquino administration has no choice but to use diplomacy to ensure non-escalation as we will be the biggest loser in all of this," he told the Manila Bulletin.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said, "We should not be cowed into submission due to this bullying. We should continue to assert our legal and valid right over the area."
Agham party-list Representative Angelo Palmones said that while he does not see any escalation over the territorial dispute, the government should revive Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program.
"While I don't believe the standoff will reach to a combat action, the emerging threats of external aggression call for the revival of the ROTC program to strengthen our reserve force. A well-trained, disciplined and determined combat force can match a well-equipped aggressor. Remember, Gat Andres Bonifacio and Lapu-Lapu confronted their enemies with bolo," he said.
Meanwhile Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the presence of Chinese vessels preventing Filipino from operating in the disputed waters was an "indication China is grabbing the place from us."
"We must prepare. We better buy war equipment. We better buy our weapons, our means of defense," Enrile said. "What do you do when your neighbor who lives far from your place goes to your home armed with swords, arrows and javelin? You should buy your own weapons then and sharpen your swords too."
But Senator Gringo Honasan cautioned against aggravating the situation, saying the government has to admit its limitations.
Honasan thinks China is "just posturing and muscle-flexing."
"Even if China deploys its fleet, do you think other countries would agree to that? The United States' Seventh Fleet and the Pacific Fleet also passes through that area. You think they would allow China to do that on a sustained basis without a counter-measure? I don't think so," Honasan said. (With reports from Madel Sabater, Charissa M. Luci, Raymund Antonio and Hannah L. Torregoza)