PH to patrol in disputed sea, but with restraint
MANILA, Philippines–The military will continue to patrol in areas of contested sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea despite the challenge posed by a Chinese sea vessel to a Philippine Navy plane in the area last week.
But the Armed Forces of the Philippines said its patrols will exercise “maximum restraint” should an incident similar to what occurred near Subi Reef last Sunday happen again.
“There are rules of engagement on maximum restraint when it comes to contentious issues in these areas in the West Philippine Sea,” said military spokesman Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala.
It will be recalled that on April 19, a Chinese ship allegedly committed an act of aggression against a Philippine Navy plane flying near Subi Reef. The sea vessel flashed its lights at the plane, which is a challenge to an unidentified aircraft.
AFP public affairs head Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. had ordered a review of the rules of engagement to ensure that all pilots exercised self-restraint in such a situation.
In particular, pilots on maritime sovereignty patrol should not counter with aggressive actions, and should just ignore such actions unless they are fired upon.
“That’s in the Declaration of Conduct, to avoid conflict. Although that’s nonbinding, we want to hold the moral high ground when it comes to the dispute in the West Philippine Sea. Even if they bully us, we will follow the Declaration of Conduct,” Cabunoc said.
The Declaration of Conduct is a 2002 agreement between member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China which are locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
During last Sunday’s incident, the Filipino pilots chose to ignore the challenge of the Chinese ship.
The AFP said it was possible similar incidents would happen in the future, like the firing of water cannons last year by the Chinese coast guard at Filipino fishermen at Panatag Shoal.
Cabunoc said at least five incidents involving water cannons occurred since then.
“The water cannon incidents are another indication of growing assertiveness by China using its power, so how much more if they have established all these reclaimed areas which are believed to have military purposes?” he said.
The military said it feared the Chinese will shoo away any sea or aircraft passing near the Chinese reclamation projects.
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