The Philippines wants to acquire two more navy ships from the US to boost its maritime protection amid threats from China, its military chief said yesterday. The acquisitions would come under the military assistance announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry when he visited the Philippines last month, armed forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista said. "Within the last year, we realised that there is a real threat out there in terms of securing, defending our territory," Bautista told ANC television. He said ideally the country needed about six more frigates to guard its long coastline effectively. "In fact, we are bidding now for two frigates. Hopefully we will be able to acquire them in a couple of years," Bautista said. He said he had made "maritime domain awareness" and protection a key concern of his leadership. The funds used to boost maritime defence, he said, would come from the US$40 million military assistance pledged by Kerry in December. The Philippines has already acquired two refurbished American frigates in the past two years, and they now lead patrols in the South China Sea. The Philippines, a long-time US military ally, has been locked in an increasingly tense standoff with China involving disputed reefs and islands. In 2012, the flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the first acquired from the US, confronted Chinese ships on Scarborough Shoal, a small outcrop just off the coast of the main island of Luzon. The Chinese eventually gained control of the outcrop after Manila backed down. However, the government sought UN arbitration to settle the dispute, a move rejected by Beijing. Bautista said the Gregorio del Pilar, as well as another frigate that arrived last year, had been deployed to protect the country's waters. "There are Chinese fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea as we speak," he said, but declined to say where they were. Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters near the coast of its neighbours.