radar system commissioned by the government has detected an unidentified aircraft over the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
An ABS-CBN news report said the aircraft, believed to be a fighter jet, was detected at dawn last Monday by the radar system commissioned by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).
Alan Ortencio of the New Manila Air Control Center told ABS-CBN anchor Anthony Taberna that the aircraft popped up on the radar at 1:35 a.m. and was flying at a speed of 670 knots.
The jet reportedly disappeared in less than a minute.
The ABS-CBN report quoted Ortencio as saying that the aircraft had opened its transponder to identify itself to the ships below it.
“He turned on his transponder right on top of (Panatag) island, which is probably the mother ship,” Ortencio said.
The report came amid tensions between the Philippines and China over Panatag Shoal, an area rich in marine resources.
Panatag Shoal is 124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales.
The standoff in the shoal started on April 10 after two Chinese maritime surveillance ships barred the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who had poached endangered marine species from the area.
Panatag Shoal is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a signatory.
There are no indications so far that the aircraft detected by the radar came from China.
Sought for comment, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said it would coordinate with the CAAP about the matter.
“We are looking into it,” PAF spokesman Col. Miguel Okol told The STAR in a phone interview yesterday.
“There are no warning signs yet that will alarm us,” he added.
Okol noted that the tension in Panatag Shoal is continuously being addressed diplomatically.
ABS-CBN said the Chinese embassy in Manila had claimed not knowing anything about the unidentified aircraft.
Ortencio said a Chinese jet does not usually fly alone and is often accompanied by other jets.
A security official who requested anonymity said it is hard to draw conclusions on the origin of the aircraft, since “it is just a bleep in the radar.”
The ABS-CBN report quoted Foreign Affairs department spokesman Raul Hernandez as saying that the flight of the aircraft is allowed by the
The international agreement permits over-flight in an exclusive economic zone for “continuous and expeditious transit,” he added.
‘Agreeing to disagree’
Meanwhile, President Aquino commended late Wednesday the 37th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties with China and the 11th Philippines-China friendship day, saying that while there have been territorial issues over the West Philippine Sea, both countries can live peacefully by agreeing to disagree.
“What we must do right now is to continue strengthening cooperation in the several areas that are proven to be mutually beneficial. And to continue working tirelessly to find the peaceful, diplomatic solution in the area in which we disagree,” he said.
The event, which also celebrated the nation’s 114th Independence Day, held at the Manila Hotel and sponsored by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., was attended by Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing, who read a message from President Hu Jintao.
“The Chinese side values its traditional friendship with the Philippines and stands ready to work with the Philippine side to focus on the present while facing a long-term perspective, overcome difficulties and remove disturbances,” she said.
Quoting Hu Jintao, Beijing extended its congratulations on the Philippines’ celebration of its 114th independence, and wanted a “lasting, sound development” of the diplomatic ties “on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”
“We must continue this partnership. After all, while we do enjoy the success we’ve worked for, we are still confronted by a number of challenges. We need to stand together as we look towards the future,” Aquino said.
Aquino reiterated his stand on the Spratlys row, noting that while there needs to be a diplomatic way of resolving the issue, the Philippines’ claim to the territory is backed up by solid evidence, and that he has a mandate to protect the country’s sovereignty.
“I know many here are concerned about the situation in the West Philippine Sea. Both the Philippines and China are exerting efforts to resolve the situation peacefully through diplomatic means,” he said.
“However, I must emphasize that I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic,” Aquino stressed, justifying the country’s stand in protecting its territory.
“The extent of our territory and maritime zones are clearly defined by Philippine laws and international law, specifically the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he pointed out.
“As a member of the international community, we owe each other mutual respect of our respective sovereignty under international law,” Aquino said, calling on Beijing not to make moves that would increase tension in the region.
“Recently, we have gained momentum toward resolving this dispute and I think that China agrees that we must maintain this momentum,” he said.
“After all, our countries both recognize that peace and stability in the region will redound to benefits not only to us, but to the rest of world. Consequently, tensions within it affect the entire global community,” Aquino said. – With Delon Porcalla