MANILA - Malacañang on Wednesday said China has no business in the country’s exclusive waters and any continued presence by its ships near Philippine-occupied islands would be considered as an "assault" to Manila's sovereignty.
"While we remain friendly with respect to trade relations, we will always assert sovereignty when it is being impaired or assaulted," Panelo told reporters during a Palace press briefing.
"If they continue to be present in our territory then it is an assault to our sovereignty," he added.
Panelo’s remarks came after a report by Inquirer.net showed that some Chinese vessels have been spotted near Kota Island and Panata Island last March 28.
Last month, the military reported that over 600 Chinese vessels have been circling Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) in the West Philippine Sea since January this year.
Satellite images taken in 2018 and released earlier this year meanwhile showed that Chinese fishing vessels account for the largest number of ships operating in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea.
Panelo said the Chinese should leave the area since they have "no business of being there."
"They leave the place, I mean they cannot be staying there," he said.
Philippine authorities have raised concerns over China's activities in the South China Sea particularly militarization efforts, which Beijing has denied.
Manila in 2016 won a ruling from a UN-backed tribunal which invalidates China's sweeping 9-dash line claim over the disputed waters but Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
Ties between the Philippines and China, however, have warmed up under President Rodrigo Duterte who has chosen to set aside Manila's arbitral victory in exchange for a closer relationship with Asia's largest economy.
Asked whether it would be timely for Duterte to raise the arbitral ruling to China, Panelo said the decision is up to the President.