Philippine President Aquino pays tribute to marines in Spratly isles

Philippine marine Lieutenant First Class Mike Pelotera smiles as he shows off his bronze cross medal at the Naval Headquarters in Palawan on March 31, 2014, one of the 9-man contingent with a bronze cross medal for acts in a five-month mission manning the Philippines' remote outpost on Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratlys Islands in the South China Sea. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino yesterday paid tribute to nine marines who stood guard over a disputed outpost in the South China Sea amid rising tensions with Beijing.

Mr Aquino, speaking to World War II veterans, vowed to continue modernising the country's armed forces as it faced challenges protecting its territorial integrity. He praised the marines who spent five months aboard a rusted ship grounded on a reef that serves as a Philippine outpost in the remote Spratly Islands.

"Just think of the gravity of their sacrifice," Mr Aquino said. "For five months, their entire world revolved around the sea. They had almost no communication with their families... There were even times when the supplies and food they needed were blocked from reaching them."

Despite the hardship, Mr Aquino said the marines fulfilled their duties with "their dedication anchored on keeping watch over, and safeguarding, our territory".