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Philippines to Upgrade Navy in S. China Sea

A member of the Philippine Naval Special Operations Group poses for photographers beside the Philippine Navy Agusta Westland 109 helicopter on board the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF15) warship at Manila's pier, Dec. 17, 2014.

The Philippines has announced plans to further modernize its navy in the South China Sea, where it is involved in a territorial dispute with Beijing.

Navy Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad said Wednesday Manila will purchase two frigates, two helicopters, and three gunboats as part of the upgrade. Taccad said South Korea, Spain, and France have made bids to supply the frigates. Indonesia and Italy are bidding for the helicopters, while the gunboats could be supplied by Taiwan or five other shipyards.

He made the announcement on board the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a former U.S. Coast Guard cutter that is now Manila's most powerful warship.

Taccad said the modernization aims to protect Philippine sovereignty and took on "some urgency" due to recent events in the South China Sea.

China's claims nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer sea, putting it at odds with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The disputes have become increasingly tense in recent years as countries increase exploration for oil and gas beneath the seabed.

In 2012, Chinese and Philippine ships were involved in a weeks-long standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, an uninhabited archipelago claimed by both countries.

Following the standoff, the Philippines took China to a United Nations court in hopes of settling a long-running dispute over territory in the South China Sea.

Beijing says it does not recognize international arbitration of the dispute and has refused to defend itself or otherwise take part in the proceedings.

China has not responded to Manila's latest announcement on the upgrade, but has slammed past moves and said they are raising regional tensions.