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Philippine government: Use of US spy planes not 'provocative'

By JAIME R. PILAPIL | The Manila Times, Philippines | Published: July 4, 2012

MANILA — The Philippine government has confirmed that US spy planes may be tapped to conduct maritime surveillance operations in all its territories, including the disputed Kalayaan (Spratly) Group of Islands and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

But Strategic Communications Secretary Ramon "Ricky" Carandang quickly clarified that the surveillance aircrafts identified as the US Navy's P3C Orion planes will only "take pictures" and that such activities should not be seen as "provocative."

"The channels are open and I believe that once all the statements have been clarified and all the facts have been vetted this will no longer be viewed as provocation by the other side," he said.

Carandang stressed that there is no need for a new agreement to be forged to authorize such "flyovers" since the United States and the Philippines have long committed to enhance their defense capabilities.

"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 flyovers, if they happen, would necessarily require any sort of special arrangement," he pointed out.

On Tuesday, Malacanang said that President Benigno Aquino 3rd has ordered surveillance flights over Panatag Shoal to monitor the movements of Chinese vessels.

Carandang said that the President was interviewed by Thomson Reuters and he was asked if he had approved flyovers by US surveillance planes called Orions to monitor the country's territory, including the contested shoal.

"The President said that that was one of the options. Remember that we have a responsibility to monitor our territory to make sure that there are no incursions for one reason or another and our capabilities are 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. Now, he reiterated that there have been no decision and that the primary

responsibility belongs to the Philippine government," he explained.

"If they happen at all, there are surveillance flights, they are not meant to be provocative; they are merely meant to monitor our territory. There's no offensive capability here. So this should not be viewed as a provocative statement," he added.

He was reacting to a previous warning by Beijing to countries claiming ownership of the marine sanctuary to stop issuing provocative statements.

The move to request P3C Orion spy planes would first require the approval of President Benigno Aquino's top defense advisers, Carandang said.

The request "is a possibility as a way to enhance our monitoring capabilities," Carandang told Agence France Presse."But definitely, this is just for monitoring and surveillance purposes."

Carandang said the efforts in enhancing the presence of the country's vessels in Panatag Shoal were actually meant to deescalate the tension in the area despite a lingering standoff

between Philippine and Chinese vessels.

"If there's an effort to enhance our ability to do that, we don't believe that that is provocative or escalate--or in any escalating the situation," he said.

The US Navy's P3C Orion is a four-engine turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft. Originally designed as a land-based, long-range, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) patrol aircraft, the P-3C's mission has evolved in the late 1990s and early 21st century to include surveillance of the battlespace, either at sea or over land.

Its long range and long loiter time have proved invaluable assets during Operation Iraqi Freedom as it can view the battle space and instantaneously provide that information to ground troops.

The P-3C has advanced submarine detection sensors such as directional frequency and ranging

(Difar) sonobuoys and magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) equipment. The avionics system is integrated by a general purpose digital computer that supports all of the tactical displays, monitors and automatically launches ordnance and provides flight information to the pilots.

In addition, the system coordinates navigation information and accepts sensor data inputs for tactical display and storage.

The aircraft can carry weapons in the bomb bay and on ten underwing pylons. The bomb bay is in the underside of the fuselage forward of the wing. It is capable of carrying a 2,000-pound mine such as the mk25, mk39, mk55 or mk56.

Alternative ordnance includes 1,000-pound mines, depth bombs, torpedoes, or nuclear depth bombs. The underwing pylons can carry 2,000lb mines, torpedoes, rockets, rocket pods and 500-pound mines.

US State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland refused to comment but said that "as part of our long-standing cooperation, the United States supports the Philippines in enhancing its maritime awareness".

Chinese embassy officials were not immediately available for comment, but Beijing has in the past repeatedly warned against US involvement in the dispute.

Last week, China said it would oppose any military provocation in the South China Sea, which it called its "indisputable territory".

That warning was apparently directed at the US, which had recently launched major naval exercises in Hawaii involving 22 nations.

Meanwhile, President Aquino will convene his Cabinet on Thursday to discuss solely the Philippines-China relations, according to Carandang.

Because of the Panatag Shoal standoff, Philippine banana export to China suffered as well as the influx of tourists to Boracay, Bohol and Camarines Sur.

"If you look at the way the Philippine-China dynamic has evolved over the last few months, there's defense, there's political, there's economic, there's all kinds of factors now that are being thrown into the mix. And the President has met with the economic cluster about these issues. He has met with the security cluster about these issues. He has met with DFA. So when the whole Cabinet comes together, then they can be discussed in a broader context," he said.

The Scarborough Shoal dispute began after Chinese government vessels blocked Philippine ships from arresting Chinese fishermen near the shoal on April 10.

Since then, both countries have maintained ships there to press their respective claims to the area.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries. The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

China's deployment of combat ready patrol boats in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) should not be a cause for concern for so long as the freedom of navigation in the area is not restricted, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"It's nothing. It's already there. We have no problem with our freedom of navigation," AFP

chief General Jessie Dellosa said also on Tuesday.

He pointed out that international and commercial ships were also regularly passing through that route without any incidence report of being coerced or harassed by Chinese patrol boats.

The Chinese Ministry of De-fense deployed four surveillance boats to patrol in the disputed sea to show its strong objection to a new law recently passed by the Vietnamese parliament declaring sovereignty over the Spratlys.

Dellosa said that as of the moment he sees no need for the presence of the Navy so as not to escalate the tension.
 

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