“Remember, the way it’s been packaged in the past, it’s Philippines vs China which is absolutely not true because there are multiple claimants in the West Philippines Sea, we have Malaysia, China, Brunei Darussalam”, Cayetano said.

“The situation in West Philippine Sea and South China Sea is very serious we will not give single inch, single square meter, single centimeter”.

Alejano said the Chinese ships were found one to three nautical miles north of Pagasa Island, which lies within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. He later clarified that he did not mean to say the Philippines would not file any protest at all, while saying protests can come in various forms – verbal or written.

The defence minister, Delfin Lorenzana, told a congressional hearing the Philippines and China had reached a “modus vivendi”, or a way to get along, in the South China Sea that prohibits new occupation of islands.

The Philippine military is validating claims that China is amassing vessels near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese ships had also apparently blocked a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ship in the area, said Alejano, citing information from contacts in the military.

Pag-asa (Thitu), part of the Spratly group of islands, is located about 480 kilometres west of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

“For example, our fishermen continued to be harassed in the West Philippine Sea by the Chinese Navy or Coast Guard. Let us not forget what happened in 1995 when they grabbed Mischief Reef from us”. Since taking power a year ago, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought closer investment and trade links with Beijing, including over resources in the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has given instructions to all Philippine embassies and consulates all over the world, particularly those in or near conflict areas, to review their contingency plans and make sure these are up-to-date to ensure that these could lead Filipinos out of harm’s way.

Cayetano said there is no need to make public every complaint against China because it would only erode trust between the two nations.

“There was no opportunity to talk to China because we had consistent confrontations with them”, he said.