US eyes Clark, Subic for surveillance flights

by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jul 09 2012 10:19 PM | Updated as of Jul 10 2012 04:01 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The former Clark and Subic military bases could be used as a springboard for US military forces amid America's new push in the Asia-Pacific and the backdrop of the Philippines' territorial dispute with China, a top US official has revealed.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert, US Chief of Naval Operations, told media in a Pentagon briefing on June 27 that American and Filipino forces may hold regular surveillance flights to monitor Philippine waters.

"You've just mentioned Subic Bay. Clark Air Base, we -- we do maritime domain awareness flights monthly with the Philippine armed forces. That might be a potential (move)," he said.

Greenert said the US also has current "access to an extraordinary number of places" in the Asia-Pacific and may look to ask for repair and supplies for US ships, aircraft, and troops visiting countries such as the Philippines.

"I think in the best interest of each nation, we'll continue to -- to work on and see where that might go," he said.

Greenert, meanwhile, declined to answer a question on the possibility of US troops being deployed to Philippine-held islands in the disputed Spratlys.

"I'm not aware of that. I regret I can't speak on that," he said.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier said Manila was considering a US proposal to deploy surveillance aircraft to the Philippines.

Reuters also quoted President Benigno Aquino as saying that he is considering asking the US to launch surveillance and monitoring flights over the West Philippine Sea.

Aquino later clarified his statement, saying his administration "might" just ask for US help.

The proposed surveillance flights have caught China's ire, with the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily accusing Manila of "orchestrating a plot to deliberately stir up tensions over the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.

China maritime patrol

Meanwhile, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said Monday that a naval patrol team deployed to the West Philippine Sea has returned from its mission.

"The team, consisting of four China Marine Surveillance ships, patrolled dozens of islets and reefs in the South China Sea and conducted a formation practice near the Nansha and Zhongsha Islands in adverse weather conditions," Xinhua said.

Nansha refers to the Spratlys, while Zhongsha refers to Macclesfield Bank and its many atolls, reefs and shoals -- including tightly-contested Scarborough or Panatag Shoal just off the Philippines' Zambales province.

The Chinese patrol boats travelled 2,800 nautical miles in West Philippine Sea before returning to port in Guangzhou on Sunday, according to Xinhua.

"The vessels reached as far as 47.5 degrees north latitude and 108.35 degrees east longitude since its departure from south China's coastal city of Sanya on June 26, said Wang Yun, captain of Haijian 83," Xinhua said.
       
It said the China Marine Surveillance vessels are under the State Oceanic Administration and "have performed regular patrols and law-enforcement activities in waters under China's jurisdiction since 2006."