AFP conducts air patrol over Scarborough Shoal
The Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducted an air patrol over Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) on Tuesday in the wake of a tiff between China and the United States over the presence of a US warship in the contested area.
The AFP said it would conduct air patrols in the area three to four times a month. Journalists were allowed to join Tuesday’s patrol.
“This is being done as a routine activity and patrols are schedules to ensure monitoring of our area,” Lt. Col. Isagani Nato, Nolcom spokesperson, said in Filipino.
Four Chinese Coast Guard vessels, a Chinese fishing vessel, and about five Filipino fishing boats were spotted in the area.
A Philippine Air Force C-295 plane patrolled the area for about 30 minutes at an altitude of 5,000 feet (1.52 kilometers).
China recently protested the presence of a US warship which it spotted within 22 kilometers of the shoal, saying it would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.
The shoal is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile (370-km) exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea).
China has been asserting ownership of the shoal. But in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which backed by the United Nations, ruled that the Philippines had the sovereign right to fish and explore for resources and that China had interfered with these rights by restricting access.
Despite the ruling, the Chinese Coast Guard ships continue to be present in the area, but they have allowed Filipino fishermen at the shoal.
Scarborough Shoal was a source of tensions in 2012 when the Philippine Navy tried to arrest Chinese fishermen illegally fishing in the area. But Chinese maritime surveillance ships stopped them. This prompted the Philippines to file a case at the UN.
But when President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016, he chose to work for warmer ties with the regional superpower in exchange for pledges of loans and other assistance.
In October 2017, he said that China committed to the Philippines that it would not build anything on Scarborough Shoal. /atm
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