Spy planes over Spratlys just like Google Earth, says Carandang
MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang said China should not view as provocative the statement of President Benigno Aquino III that the Philippines may ask the United States to send spy planes to help monitor the disputed areas in the South China Sea.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said the plan is not meant to offend. It would only be meant to help the Philippine government monitor its territory, he said.
Carandang added there is no decision yet on the matter and that it is only one of the options the President articulated in an interview given the limited capability of the country to monitor its boundaries.
"The President said that that was one of the options. Remember that we have the responsibility to monitor our territory and to make sure that there are no incursions for one reason or another. And our capability is rather limited. So the President was responding in the context of saying that it's one of the options being considered to enable us to enhance our ability to monitor our territory. He reiterated that there has been no decision and that the primary responsibility belongs to the Philippine government," Carandang told reporters.
"If they happen at all, they are surveillance flights, they are not meant to be provocative. They are merely meant to monitor our territory. There is no offensive capability here. So this should not be viewed as a provocative statement," he added.
Carandang downplayed the move, even comparing it to Google Earth.
"There are civilian applications for taking aerial photos. I'm sure you're all aware of Google Earth. Nobody thinks that if Google Earth flies over Luzon or Scarborough, then that's gong to be a provocation. It's basically doing the same thing. So there's no military component to this. If ever, we're just taking shots of the terrain. So monitoring lang talaga 'yan," Carandang said.
He said there is no agreement required and there should be no issue if US military spy planes do a surveillance over the area.
"I don't think you need a treaty or an agreement. We have commitments from the United States to help us enhance our defense and monitoring capabilities. But it's just like we would have similar agreements with other friendly countries. So I don't think simple fly-overs if they happen would necessarily require any sort of special arrangement," he said.
"We don't believe there is an issue there."
He added that the diplomatic lines remain open between the two countries and that the Philippines remains committed to deescalate tensions in the disputed areas.
"In order for us to properly deescalate, we also have to be able to monitor what's happening in our territory. And so therefore if there is an effort to enhance our ability to do that, we don't believe that that is provocative or in any way escalating the situation," he said.
"Our two countries have diplomatic lines that remain open. I think maybe there was an initial reaction and I think once everything has come out, I am confident that this would not be viewed as a provocation," he added.
Relations to China
A Cabinet meeting would be held on Thursday to discuss the country's overall relations with China.
This would be a venue for the Cabinet to discuss the different aspects of the bilateral relations, including trade and security, he said.
"If they are all together, then everybody is enlightened or their opinions are enriched by interacting with the other clusters," he said.
Following the territorial dispute, other issues between the two countries have cropped up.
Tourists from China have been discouraged from coming into the country. The Philippines, meanwhile, have also sought ways to address phytosanitary issues on banana exports to China.
Carandang said no slowdown in Chinese investments has been detected although Philippine investments to China have been more substantial than the other way around.
"We'd love to see more Chinese investments at this point. We'd love to see their investments reach the level of ours. But at this point, that hasn't happened," he said.