MANILA, Philippines – Tensions have been high at the Scarborough Shoal off Zambales because of the continued presence of Chinese vessels.
But last Monday, even the country's airspace became subjected to an unauthorized intrusion.
The radar system commissioned by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines picked up the entry of a suspected fighter jet over the disputed territory.
The intrusion lasted for less than a minute.
The fighter jet is said to have opened its transponder to identify itself to the ships down below.
“He turned on his transponder right on top of Scarborough island, which is probably the mother ship,” said Alan Ortencio of the New Manila Air Control Center.
Ortencio, a systems engineer who previously worked with the US Defense Department and the Taiwan Defense Ministry, said Chinese jets usually don't fly solo.
“Mostly, fighter jets go from 2 to more than 2,” he said.
The Philippine Air Force has asked for a copy of the radar data recording to determine the type of aircraft that made the fly-by and who owns it.
But it also says there is no cause for alarm.
“There are no dangerous trends, no warning flags being issued by other agencies. There is no clear and present danger,” said spokesman Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol.
DFA: UNCLOS allows transit
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, confirmed that an unidentified aircraft flew over the shoal, but added this is permitted under an international agreement.
DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the information he got from the Philippine Coast Guard is that it was an unidentified aircraft that flew over the shoal on June 11 at 20,000 feet.
However, he said the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) allows freedom of navigation and overflight in an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and in the high seas for purpose of continuous and expedition transit.
The Air Force admitted this is the first time a fighter jet has entered the country's airspace without government authorization.
According to the Chinese embassy in Manila, they don't know anything about the alleged entry of a Chinese fighter jet in Philippine airspace. -- ANC