Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (PNA File photo)

MANILA – The continued presence of Chinese maritime militia ships in the West Philippine Sea shows China's intention to occupy other features in the area, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Sunday

"The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea," he said in a statement forwarded to reporters.

Lorenzana was responding to the Chinese Embassy in Manila's statement justifying the presence of Chinese vessels off Julian Felipe Reef called Niu'e Jiao and part of their Nansha Islands.

The Chinese Embassy issued the statement after Lorenzana on Saturday called for the withdrawal of the remaining Chinese ships off Julian Felipe Reef saying there is no reason for them to stay there.

He said China has done this before at Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, and at Panganiban Reef "brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law."

"As a party to the DOC (Declaration of Conduct), China should refrain from conducting activities that disturb regional and international peace and security," he added, referring to the 2002 DOC of Parties in South China which China and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) which was signed in November of that year.

Parties to the DOC reaffirmed their respect and commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight at the South China Sea and to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes through peaceful means.

Lorenzana also called the utter disregard by the Chinese Embassy in Manila of international law especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China is a party, "appalling".

"Its nine-dash line claim is without any factual or legal basis. This, together with its so-called historical claim, was flatly and categorically rejected by the arbitral tribunal," he added.

Lorenzana said the Philippines’ claims stand on solid ground, while China’s does not.

"China should respect Philippine sovereignty over the Kalayaan Islands, and its sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone as defined by UNCLOS and affirm by the arbitral award," he added.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) earlier expressed concern about a Philippine Coast Guard report that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7

The reef is located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan. (PNA)