MANILA (2nd UPDATE)—Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday he does not see a cause for concern on the reported firing of flares by China against Philippine military aircraft patrolling the West Philippine Sea.
This, after Maj. Gen. Reuben Basiao, deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told a House defense panel that from January to June, warning flares were fired 6 times by China from its artificial islands to discourage Philippine patrols from coming any closer.
This was reportedly not the first time China fired warning flares in the West Philippine Sea, but it is the first time Philippine military officials have gone on record to disclose it, and also describe its frequency.
Lorenzana, who said he made inquiries into these reports before responding to the press, confirmed that “the flares were fired from the three Chinese-occupied artificial Islands within our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) while our planes were passing by these islands.”
He added that the flares did not put Philippine forces in harm’s way because the flares were not aimed at the aircraft themselves.
“There was no danger on our aircraft. None of our aircraft flew over these islands. Hence, these were not directed against our aircraft as they are about 5 nautical miles away and at an altitude of 5,000 ft distance from the artificial Islands,” Lorenzana told reporters.
Flares are designed as visual warning devices, in this case, to make the aircraft known that China is asserting its presence in the area and does not want them to approach any closer. They are never fired to hit.
“Why were the Chinese firing their flares? I don’t know. Maybe they were having some celebrations,” he said in jest, before continuing in a more serious tone.
“But my suspicion is that they are letting our aircraft know where they (the Chinese) are, lest our aircraft stray over them. It is just a warning to communicate where they are, nothing more."
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had this to say over the issue.
"Thank God we waited for military intelligence to get the right picture before running around like headless chickens," he wrote on Twitter.
China, Basiao earlier said, has been expanding to the Philippines' eastern seaboard particularly east of the Philippine Rise, an undersea region around 250 kilometers northeast of Isabela province.
“Specifically, Beijing has been making significant improvements in 7 reclaimed features in the South China Sea as shown Chigua Mabini Panganiban reefs as well as in the Philippine EEZ," he said.
He added: “Of significance is the presence of 17 Chinese research vessels within Philippine waters from January to June 2019. China has also been deploying its assets to hinder Philippine operations both patrols and rotation and reprovision operations in the West Philippine Sea.”
Over the years, tensions have risen between the Philippines and China over claims in the West Philippine Sea, particularly oil-rich Scarborough Shoal.
- with reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News