Scarborough Shoal is just a mouse click away on Google Earth, or so says Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang.
Carandang was reacting to suggestions that China might be offended by President Benigno Aquino’s statement in an interview with Reuters on Monday that he might ask the United States to deploy spy planes over the West Philippine Sea to watch over disputed territories in what China refers to as the South China Sea.
“I am confident that this will not be viewed as provocation. Let me add something, there are civilian applications for taking photos, aerial photos. I’m sure you’re all aware of Google Earth,” Carandang said in yesterday’s news briefing in Malacañang.
No military component
“Nobody thinks that if Google Earth lies over Luzon or Scarborough then that’s going to be a provocation. They are basically doing the same thing. So there’s no military component to this. We really just—if ever, we’re just taking shots of the terrain. So it’s really just monitoring.”
Google Earth is a geographical program featuring satellite images of the planet’s terrain and structures.
“Surveillance flights aren’t meant to be provocative,” Carandang said. “It’s just monitoring.”
Told that surveillance by a military plane was different from photos taken by Google Earth, Carandang was firm in saying, “We don’t believe there’s an issue there.”
Carandang, nonetheless, said the US involvement in surveillance was just one of the options that the President said in his interview.
“The primary responsibility of watching over the country’s territories remains with the Philippine government,” he added.
“One of the questions was whether or not we have approved flyovers by US surveillance planes they called Orions and whether or not we had approved flyovers to monitor our territory. The President said that that was one of the options,” Carandang said.
“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,” he said.
Carandang said the President “reiterated that there have been no decision and that the primary responsibility belongs to the Philippine government.”
No treaty needed
Asked what US deal would cover the spy flights, Carandang said: “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 added.
What would the Philippines do if the overflights revealed incursions by the Chinese?
“We’ll cross the bridge when we get there,” Carandang said.