The Philippine task force for the South China Sea, an inter-agency government body, called for China to stop its "aggressive activities" in the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both countries.

The water cannons had been used at least eight times on Saturday on Philippine civilian vessels, damaging communication and navigation equipment of a fisheries vessel "directly and deliberately targeted by the China Coast Guard," it said.

Three fisheries bureau vessels were on a supply mission to provide oil and groceries to more than 30 Filipino fishing vessels near the Scarborough shoal.

"To prevent the distribution of humanitarian support is not only illegal but also inhuman," the task force said.

Chinese Maritime Militia vessels were also reported to have engaged in "dangerous manoeuvres" and deployed a long-range acoustic device that resulted in temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew, the task force said.

China said earlier that it took "control measures" on Saturday against three Philippine fishing vessels in the South China Sea that had intruded into waters near Scarborough Shoal, state media reported.

The Scarborough Shoal is located within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Beijing seized it in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China's claims had no legal basis.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by William Mallard and Neil Fullick)

By Neil Jerome Morales