2 suspected Chinese fighter jets intrude on Philippine airspace
Suspected Chinese fighter jets, reportedly Russian-made multirole SukhoiS, again intruded into Philippine airspace particularly over the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in Palawan in the middle of last week, the Navy said.
The KIG has been constituted into a municipality under the province of Palawan.
The intrusion happened a day before the opening of the 2013 Philippines-US Exercise Balikatan, where some 8,000 Filipino and American soldiers are participating. The exercise is going in Luzon.
“Naval operating forces in Palawan have reported sightings of two unidentified aircraft passing at high speed and high altitude over the vicinity of Pagasa Island,” Col. Edgard Arevalo, Naval spokesman for West Philippine Sea issues and other special naval concerns, said.
The sighting was recorded and reported by Commo. Joseph Rustom Peña, commander of the Naval Forces West based in Puerto Princesa City, in his report to the Navy flag officer in command, Vice Adm. Jose Luis Alano.
“They [aircraft], that headed north and came from the southwest, were spotted on Thursday, April 4, at 9:50 a.m.,” Arevalo said, quoting Peña’s report.
Pagasa Island is one of the barangays of KIG where an undeveloped airstrip is found. Less than 500 civilians and an undisclosed number of military troops are on the island.
The KIG town is composed of seven islets and two reefs on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and is led by Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon. The area is part of the disputed Spratly Islands.
The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia are claiming portions of the territories. China claims the whole area.
Earlier, military sources disclosed the airspace intrusion of alleged Chinese Sukhoi fighter jets in the WPS.
“The intrusions allegedly happened last week and early this week. Local fishermen who reported the incident claimed the fighter jets were always in tandem,” the source said late last week.
He added that the three airspace violations happened in the KIG. The source said it was not clear if the Russian-made multirole fighter jets were part of the Chinese naval drill that was held recently on the South China Sea and “deliberately” intruded over KIG.
But Arevalo insisted there was no way to identify the aircraft.
“If we were able to identify [the aircraft], assuming they were Chinese, then we file diplomatic protest because that was a violation of our domain. But if they were Americans and they are part of the Balikatan, that is authorized.… The problem is we’re not able to identify the aircraft because of their speed and altitude, [they were] too fast and too high,” he said.
“The bottom line really is our limitation in terms of capability. If we have a good radar system we can easily spot and identify intruders, their direction and bearing,” he added.
Arevalo said the report was immediately passed to the Navy Headquarters in Manila.
“The Navy remains vigilant and committed to its mandate of securing the country’s maritime domain—notwithstanding limitations in its naval and air assets—and continue to conduct sovereignty patrols on the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
More than two weeks before the Friday opening of Exercise Balikatan, local fishermen claimed ships with Chinese markings entered KIG at night and allegedly unloaded construction materials on the shallow part of an islet.
The intrusion of suspected Chinese fighter jets into the West Philippine Sea is not new, though.
In May 2011 the military confirmed that two unidentified aircraft intruded into Philippine airspace, three weeks before the arrival of the US carrier Strike Group 1 led by its mothership USS Carl Vinson in the country for a visit.
Air Force insiders said the “unidentified” aircraft were Mig-29 “Fulcrum” jets that buzzed over two Air Force OV-10 “Broncos” on a reconnaissance mission in the Spratlys.
Source: by Zaff Solmerin, (businessmirror.com.ph) News – 9 April 2013
Photo: The Philippines Air Force Augusta S-211 Fighter Aircraft (Photo by paf.mil.ph)