The Philippines has protested the swarming of Chinese flotillas near islands and islets occupied by Filipinos in the disputed South China Sea and vowed to confront such actions by China's fishermen or military with "appropriate action."

The Department of Foreign Affairs issued its rare public rebuke against the Chinese presence Thursday after the Philippine military monitored more than 200 Chinese vessels in a new disputed area called Sandy Cay, which lies near a Philippine-occupied island in the contested waters. The Chinese flotillas have swarmed around the Sandy Cay sandbars since 2017.

The department calls the Chinese presence "illegal" and "a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty."

President Rodrigo Duterte adopted a non-confrontational approach toward China over the territorial disputes when he came to office in mid-2016.