A Philippine official says he spotted five suspected Chinese coast guard and navy ships in a disputed atoll in the South China Sea and fears Beijing will take control of another area frequented by Filipino, Vietnamese and Malaysian fishermen.

Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr., who heads a Philippine-claimed region in the disputed Spratly Islands, said Wednesday he saw the Chinese ships at the Jackson Atoll for two days in a row last week while flying in a plane over the area.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says it is trying to verify the reported Chinese presence and a local newspaper report that the Chinese ships recently prevented Filipino fishermen from approaching the area.

Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysian, Taiwan and Brunei have conflicting territorial claims in the Spratlys.