"If you make moves there, that's a different story. I will tell my soldiers, 'Prepare for suicide mission.'"
CNN has reached out to the Philippine government for further comment.
A small Philippine military garrison as well as about 1
Tensions have risen since the beginning of 2019 in the South China Sea, one of the world's most disputed regions and an important shipping lane.
The Philippines and China each claim overlapping areas of the vast sea, along with many other countries including Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The area where Thitu is located is also claimed by China as part of its territory
The latest arrival of Chinese ships around Thitu Island has provoked a stern response from Manila.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs stated in a statement Thursday that their presence was "illegal" and a "clear violation of Philippine sovereignty."
"It has been observed that Chinese vessels have been present in large numbers and for sustained and recurring periods – what is commonly referred to as 'swarming' tactics – raising questions about their intentions as well as concerns about their role in supporting coercive objectives, "the Philippine statement said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang pointed to a meeting between Philippine and Chinese representatives to discuss a bilateral consultation mechanism to avoid South China Sea conflicts
"Diplomacy and intimidation
To reinforce its claims to the South," I believe that the consensus reached by the two sides through discussion in this meeting is the best answer to your question. China Sea, China has built and militarized artificial islands and has attempted to undermine other countries' positions through a combination of diplomacy and intimidation
Its aggressive moves in the region had antagonized previous Philippine administrations, which took Beijing to court to prove its claims against the sea
But relations between China and the Philippines have warmed considerably since the 2016 inauguration of Duterte, which has pushed for a closer economic relationship with Beijing
"I need China. More than anybody else at this point, I need China, "Duterte said before flying to China in April 2018.
Fishing vessels and naval ships
Philippines armed forces spokesperson Edgard Arevalo warned on Monday it was difficult to quantify how many ships are around the island at any one time, as Chinese ships come and go from the area.
In an article published in February, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said the sudden increase in the number of ships between December and January appeared to be a response to recovery and construction by the Philippines government
"The fishing boats have mostly been anchored between 2 and 5.5 nautical miles west of Thiota, while naval and coast guard ships operate slightly further south and west," the AMTI said in an article.
"The fishing vessels display all the hallmarks of belonging to China's maritime militia, including having no gear in the water that would indicate their fishing activity and disable their Automatic Identification System (AIS) "
AMTI noted that Thitu is only about 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from Subi Reef, one of China's main places fortified in its recent buildup in the South China Sea.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that if the Chinese government did not refute the actions of the fishing vessels in the vicinity of Thita, it would be assumed to have directed them. "