MANILA - The Philippines on Monday protested recent Chinese "sovereignty patrols" that it said were part of Beijing's efforts to establish "constant and overwhelming presence" to "change the status quo" in the South China Sea.
"We are protesting the conduct of sovereignty patrols by Chinese vessels around (Reed) Bank," the foreign ministry's spokesman Charles Jose said in a news briefing.
The protest comes after President Benigno Aquino disclosed in a TV interview released on Sunday that two Chinese survey vessels were spotted earlier this month around Reed Bank, an oil-rich area 144km from the nearest Philippine coast in Palawan province.
"This frequent passage of Chinese ships in Philippine territories is not just an innocent exercise of freedom of navigation. We see a pattern of sovereignty patrols, pursuant to China's unilateral effort to change the status quo," Mr Jose told reporters.
This is part of an "emerging pattern" that he said included other violations by China of international laws, such as land reclamations on five reefs in the disputed Spratlys, a group of shoals, atolls and islets in the South China Sea just west of the Philippines' coastlines.
The Philippines has been attempting to explore Reed Bank for oil and gas, but the company granted a permit, Britain-based Forum Energy, has had to hold back after a survey ship it sent was nearly rammed by a Chinese vessel in 2011.
Forum has said it is open to jointly exploring the area with China's state oil company CNOOC.
Mr Jose said such a joint venture, however, "would have to be under our laws, our terms, our Constitution".