MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed Tuesday that unmanned US Navy surveillance planes conduct patrols to help monitor activities in Philippine waters, particularly in the South China Sea.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said US drones fly over Philippine waters during joint military exercises with the United States.
Hernandez said the joint exercises involve the use of P3C Orion aircraft and are aimed at upgrading the skills of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Every now and then, we have military exercises that involve US aircraft. One of the primary purposes is to upgrade the skills of the military in terms of maritime domain awareness as well as search and rescue,” Hernandez said.
“We need to tap every resource available to know what is going on in our seas,” he added.
A classified government document seen by Kyodo News on Friday confirmed that US Navy surveillance planes conduct routine maritime patrol in the South China Sea, particularly in the contested Spratly Islands.
President Aquino had earlier disclosed that Manila was seeking US deployment of P3C Orion spy planes over the disputed sea.
The P3C Orion, a land-based maritime surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft that can intercept communications, is described as one of the most sensitive planes in the US fleet.
Its reconnaissance flights are focused on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, a submerged shoal 128 nautical miles off the island province of Palawan.
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Manila referred to the Philippine government queries on the report about US drones patrolling the disputed South China Sea.
“I would refer you to the Philippine government for any questions,” said US embassy spokesperson Bettina Malone in a text message to The STAR.
The Chinese embassy, on the other hand, could not be reached for comment.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, sees nothing wrong with the US move to deploy its Navy spy drones in the disputed sea.
Enrile noted that the US, being a superpower, could be allowed to patrol the area.
“The US is an international power, they can operate anywhere,” he said.
‘Aggressive China moves risky’
Aggressive moves by China to assert territorial claims run the risk of “miscalculations” but are also helping Washington strengthen ties with other countries in the region, the general who oversees US air forces in the Pacific said Monday.
“Being fairly aggressive runs the risk of creating the potential for miscalculation,” Air Force General Herbert Carlisle told defense reporters in Washington. “That’s something we think about every day.”
The US is shifting its military and diplomatic focus to the Asia Pacific region partly because of a buildup by Beijing. China has been involved in territorial disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam over islands in the South China Sea and with Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku islands.
Carlisle said he was concerned that some of China’s actions could trigger a larger response. “It’s a complex, changing environment,” he said. “Every action has unintended consequences and second and third order effects.”
Carlisle said at the same time China’s moves were helping Washington expand its own ties in the region, as seen in a recent announcement that Washington and Manila had expanded talks on military cooperation.
“Some of their fairly assertive, aggressive behavior has in fact brought our friends (closer) and they’re relying on us to be there and to be present,” he said.
In some cases, those allies could ultimately wind up buying defense equipment from non-US suppliers. But they wanted an increased US presence as a counterweight to China, he said.
‘No place for coercion, bullying’
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said there is no place for “coercion and bullying” in the region’s seas.
Russel told a Senate panel during his confirmation hearing last month that he would do everything in his power to “lower the temperature” in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas and push claimants, including China, toward diplomacy.
He said it was “unacceptable” for China to demand only bilateral negotiations with the other claimants.
He also voiced strong US support for efforts by Southeast Asia to negotiate as a bloc and frame a “code of conduct” to manage the disputes – an issue to be taken up at regional security talks in Brunei later this month.
The Philippines resorted to the rule of law by initiating arbitral proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to clarify the country’s maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea.
China lays claim to nearly the entire South China Sea and the East China Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario had emphasized that the Philippines undertook many efforts to peacefully engage China and settle these disputes, but these were unsuccessful.
The Philippines had exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China, Del Rosario said.
He noted that the rules-based resolution and management of disputes in the South China Sea contains two elements: the third-party arbitration of maritime claims in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, specifically UNCLOS; and the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.
Despite several invitations, China declined to join the Philippines in this peaceful endeavor. –With Christina Mendez, Reuters