Chinese jets buzz PAF patrol planes
- Jaime Laude () - May 20, 2011 - 12:00am

Manila, Philippines - Chinese jet fighters reportedly buzzed two Philippine Air Force (PAF) planes on a routine reconnaissance patrol on Thursday last week at the vicinity of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is part of the disputed Spratlys.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. said yesterday that the military is still validating the report, but sources have confirmed the recent intrusion into Philippine air space by Chinese jet fighters.

“We are validating reports pertinent to that,” Oban told journalists after attending a forum sponsored by the government-run Philippine Information Agency at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

He said if verified, the AFP would not view the incident as an act of bullying or provocation on the part of the Chinese, saying that the matter could be addressed through diplomatic channels.

Oban stressed that this would not deter the AFP from enforcing its mandate to patrol the country’s skies and territorial waters.

He said the air patrols are intended to protect the nation’s territorial integrity as well as its maritime resources against violators of the country’s maritime laws.

A military source said that two OV-10 Broncos were on a routine reconnaissance patrol over the Kalayaan Islands when two Chinese MIG-29 Fulcrums appeared and buzzed over the two PAF planes.

“That incident happened on Thursday last week over the Reed Bank Basin,” the source said.

Another source said that the two OV-10 planes initially monitored two unidentified intruding fighter jets.

While the pilots wanted to challenge the intruders, they had to back off and maintain their course as their planes do not have the capability to engage the Chinese jets.

The two Chinese planes then flew closer towards the two OV-10s.

Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of the Palawan-based Western Command (Wescom), did not return calls and text messages seeking to confirm or deny the recent air encounter.

Two months ago, two Chinese gunboats harassed a Philippine research vessel commissioned by the Department of Energy (DOE) while conducting studies also at the Reed Bank.

The Reed Bank is well within Philippine territory and Navy gunboats were deployed to secure the DOE research vessel M/V Venture.

Reed Bank is within the country’s 320 kilometers exclusive economic zone, but the area is also being claimed by China and Vietnam.

This area is part of the Kalayaan Island Group that is being claimed by the Philippines in the disputed Spratlys.

The Spratly Islands are being claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

Initial exploration of the Reed Bank by the DOE revealed that the area contains about 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 440 million barrels of oil.

The two white-colored Chinese gunboats with the markings No. 71 and No. 75 tried to drive away the DOE research vessel from the Reed Bank.

The incident prompted the Philippine government to file a diplomatic protest but this was simply dismissed by the Chinese government, saying the area is their territory.

The Chinese embassy in Manila declined yesterday to comment on the report that Chinese jet fighters buzzed over two PAF near the Kalayaan Island Group.

Ethan Sun, deputy chief of political section and spokesperson of the embassy, said the report was still being verified.

“I can’t comment on the report that’s being verified,” Sun said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) summoned in March the Chinese ambassador and lodged a diplomatic protest against the harassment of a vessel owned by the Department of Energy by two Chinese Navy gunboats while conducting maritime research off the disputed Spratly Islands.

On the other hand, the Chinese air intrusion happened three days before the US Strike Carrier Group I headed by nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson dropped anchor at Manila Bay for a regular port call.

In a sponsored dinner aboard the Carl Vinson, the vessel where the last rites for slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were conducted when the carrier was in the Arabian Sea recently, US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. gave assurance that his government is ready to stand by the Philippines if the country’s security is threatened.

“We do not even know if the sudden swing of USS Carl Vinson in the country has something to do with last Thursday’s incident in the South China Sea,” a military official said.

Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., AFP Public Information Office (PIO) chief, said the Philippines is a 58-year-old mutual defense partner of the US and as such, both have long maintained force readiness and interoperability.

“The mutual support and assistance both countries provide to each other contributes largely to strengthening our capabilities as military institutions,” Burgos said.

Burgos said that the Philippines and the US have enjoyed a long-time friendship, a relationship further bolstered by the Mutual Defense Treaty that mandates the US and the Philippines to come and protect each other in the event of external threat or aggression.

Earlier, AFP spokesman Commodore Jose Miguel Rodriguez described the visit of the USS Carl Vinson as a long-approved routine port call.

He also said that the port call of the aircraft carrier, which is leaving today, is also in line with the ongoing US military force projection and naval diplomacy in the region.

Meanwhile, the State Councilor and Minister of National Defense of China will arrive in Manila for a five-day official goodwill visit beginning tomorrow upon the invitation of the Philippine government, the Chinese Embassy said yesterday.

At the invitation of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Gen. Liang Guanglie will head a delegation for an official goodwill visit to the Philippines from 21 to 25 May 2011.

During his visit, Liang will call President Aquino and hold talks with Gazmin.

“The visit is expected to further advance China-Philippines friendly relations, specifically military exchanges and pragmatic cooperation, thus enriching and enhancing the strategic and cooperative relationship between our two countries,” the Embassy said.

The Philippines is the third leg of Liang’s Southeast Asia trip, which started from 15 May.

Liang visited Singapore and Indonesia as the guest of Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Teo Chee Hean and Indonesian Minister of Defense Purnomo Yusgiantoro. With Pia Lee-Brago

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