Chinese drones fly over Phl ship in Ayungin
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Drones believed to be Chinese have been seen hovering above the Philippine garrison in the grounded BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal, according to soldiers manning the isolated outpost.

“Since late last month and early this month, we have monitored at least three overhead passes of a kind of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle),” a Marine said.

The military has reported increased presence of Chinese vessels in Ayungin Shoal and in other areas within Philippine territory.

The outpost had served as refuge from a storm – and a Chinese patrol – to six Japanese journalists and reporters from radio station dzRH and The STAR.

The group was on its way to Pag-Asa Island on a small fishing boat with local officials led by Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon when it encountered a Chinese patrol early this month. The Chinese tried to drive away the small boat despite the bad weather.

The soldiers said they have grown accustomed to Chinese presence in the shoal. “It’s nothing. But of course we always have to report to higher headquarters on what is happening here,” said a Marine sergeant.

The soldiers said they only have binoculars to monitor the goings-on in the shoal.

Meanwhile, a former Cabinet official said that if there’s anything President Aquino should extend, it is the country’s patrol reach in the West Philippine Sea and not his term, a former cabinet official said yesterday.

Former interior secretary Rafael Alunan said the President should put an end to speculations about his seeking a second term and instead focus on protecting the country’s territorial integrity.

“All this talk and speculation of extending his term is distracting the government and the citizenry from the crucial task of defending the country’s sovereignty and resources in the West Philippine Sea,” Alunan said in a statement.

Alunan, a convenor of the West Philippine Sea Coalition which organized protests against China’s territorial intrusions, urged the Aquino administration to adopt a “clear-cut defense policy and strategy.” Such policy, Alunan said, should emphasize the need for a sustainable investment in defense.

“The Aquino administration’s procurement of additional military and naval equipment is a step in the right direction. But much more needs to be done,” Alunan, who served during the Ramos administration, said.

“Beefing up the quality and quantity of our white ship inventory should be part of a comprehensive defense buildup, free from corruption, to provide the country a credible defense shield,” he added, referring to civilian vessels.

Earlier, Aquino said he was now open to Charter change and pursuing a second term.

As the controversy over the President’s change of mind persisted, reports emerged about China’s new incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

The STAR reported early this week that China is building concrete sea barriers on a reclaimed area of the Mabini (Johnson South) Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.

A Chinese coast guard ship also harassed a small fishing boat carrying local officials and journalists on their way to Pag-Asa Island in Palawan last Aug. 1

China is also conducting extended patrols over Recto (Reed) Bank, a potentially oil-rich area 80 nautical miles from Palawan. A source told The STAR recently that Chinese vessels were putting markers in the area, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). – With Alexis Romero

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