PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte sees no need to use force against Chinese maritime militias occupying a Philippine-claimed reef in the South China Sea, according to his spokesman.

“The President’s position is we will stand by our rights, but this is not something that requires our use of force,” presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told an online news briefing in Filipino on Monday.

A national task force overseeing border disputes with China earlier said Beijing had refused to leave Whitsun Reef despite a diplomatic protest filed by Manila.

Mr. Duterte thinks the sea dispute could be resolved through peaceful means, Mr. Roque said. The Philippines would continue to assert its legal victory at an international tribunal in 2016, he added.

The Palace official earlier said more than 200 Chinese ships that were spotted at the reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe, were fishing vessels seeking refuge from bad sea conditions.

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday renewed the call of the Defense department for the Chinese vessels to leave.

In a statement, it said it would file more diplomatic protests until the vessels leave the area. “For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest.”

The Philippines last month filed a diplomatic protest against China after more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted moored at the reef.

The Chinese Embassy said the reef is part of its territory and the vessels had taken shelter due to rough sea conditions.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday urged the remaining 44 Chinese vessels to leave. “The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. The vessels should be on their way out,” he said.

The Chinese Embassy reiterated that the reef is part of China’s Nansha Island, adding that the waters around the reef had been “a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years.”

It also said it hopes authorities would make constructive efforts and avoid “unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions.”

Meanwhile, senators decried the presence of Chinese vessels at the reef.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson accused China of taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to advance its interests.

“Our country is losing tens of billions of pesos a year in stolen aquatic resources, not to mention the wanton destruction of corals within our exclusive economic zone that threatens our food security,” he said in a statement.

Senator Maria Imelda Josefa R. Marcos told an online news briefing that a “multilateral joint stand” with neighboring countries was needed.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the Chinese vessels should leave immediately.

“If they are fishing vessels as China claims, then they can’t fish in our exclusive economic zone without our consent,” she said in a statement. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas