IN a display of the country’s new-found military capability, two Air Force FA-50 fighter jets escorted the plane carrying President Benigno Aquino III and his delegation from the United States, over Polillo Island as the aircraft made its approach before landing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Friday morning.
“The fighter jets took off from Clark Field air base. They made contact with the presidential flight at 6:37 a.m., which eventually landed at 7:05 a.m.,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
“The two jets were delivered November 2015 as part of the AFP modernization program. Delivery of the remainder of the full squadron will be completed in 2017,” Coloma said.
In a press briefing, Coloma made clear that PR 001 wasn’t escorted due to any threat to the President amid an ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
He said it was common practice in other countries to give escort honors to returning heads of state.
Coloma said it was the first time in a long while that it was possible for the Philippines to do so.
“This kind of welcoming, it’s a common practice because the President is also the commander-in-chief, and this is also practiced in other states, since it gives escort honors [to the President] when his vehicle enters the air space of our country,’’ Coloma said.
He said the President aggressively pushed for the acquisition of the jets under the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program.
Aquino came from the US where he attended the Asean-US Summit hosted by US President Barack Obama in Sunnylands.
At the same time, reports said China deployed a surface-to-air missile system on Woody Island, which is part of the Paracels claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
At the close of the summit on Tuesday, Obama said he and the leaders of Southeast Asian countries discussed the need to ease tensions in the South China Sea, and agreed that any territorial disputes there should be resolved peacefully and through legal means.
However, a joint statement agreed on after a two-day summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the Sunnylands retreat in California did not include the specific mentions Washington had been seeking regarding China and its assertive pursuit of territory in the South China Sea.
On Friday, the Foreign Affairs Department said the Philippines is gravely concerned over the deployment of missile systems in the disputed territories.
“Such actions negate China’s earlier commitment not to militarize the South China Sea,” the DFA said in a statement.
China insisted that it has had military forces in the Paracels “for many years.”
But the Philippines said China’s actions were “a clear violation” of the Declaration of Conduct and other Asean-China statements.
“They put into question the good faith of China to work with Asean for the early conclusion of the CoC, and to cooperate in the efforts of all parties to find ways forward on the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea],” the DFA said.
Earlier, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted that China’s “limited and necessary self-defense facilities” on its islands in the South China Sea were consistent with international law.
He said that non-militarization is certainly in the interests of all parties, but non-militarization should not be just about one single country.
The US has been directly challenging Chinese maritime claims in the region by sending warships and military aircraft within the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit surrounding Chinese-administered islets.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday again demanded that there should be “no militarization” of the South China Sea.
“But there is every evidence, every day that there has been an increase in militarization of one kind or another. It is of serious concern,” he said.
Also on Friday, students led by the leftist League of Filipino Students and Kabataan Partylist trooped to the Chinese Consulate to demand a stop to military provocations.
“China should stop the military provocations and war-mongering! This aggression of the Chinese government is not acceptable. Their claims to the disputed territories are merely based on a warped sense of history,” said LFS National Chairperson Charisse Bañez. With Vito Barcelo
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