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The Philippines has officially lodged a diplomatic protest with China for its reported use of flares to warn off Filipino surveillance planes as they flew over contested portions of the South China Sea in June, Manila’s national security adviser said Friday.

People from the Filipino and Chinese community welcome Chinese Navy vessels as they dock at a port in Manila, Philippines on Jan 17, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Just last week, a Philippine military unit posted in the Spratly Islands said that warning flares were fired from Chinese outposts located on islets in the Union Banks to ward off Philippine Air Force planes, which were patrolling the skies above the area in mid- to late June.

“True to what we have agreed upon, this was immediately put to a diplomatic protest – there was a diplomatic protest,” National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told a virtual news briefing, in responding to questions about China’s use of flares in the disputed waters.

“We continuously protest against what we find there to be in violation of our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” Esperon added.

Meanwhile, according to an internal report by the Western Command, China fired five warning shots between June 16 and June 22 as Philippine military planes overflew the maritime region.

As per the report, the flares were fired from Chinese outposts built in these reefs: 

  • (Once) Chigua (McKennan), June 16
  • (Twice) Calderon (Cuarteron), June 22
  • (Once) Burgos (Gaven), June 22
  • (Once) Mabini (Johnson), June 22

National Security Adviser Esperon leads a task force that oversees what Manila calls the West Philippine Sea – its exclusive economic zone and other claimed territories within the South China Sea.

“We see to it that as long as we can, and are within the international rules … if we see our sovereignty and sovereign rights violated, then we indeed launch diplomatic protests… or some actions are taken to protect our national interest in the area,” Esperon said.

“China uses pyrotechnic signals or flare warnings to ward off our ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) team,” Lt. Col. Bill Pasia, of the Western Command, told an online forum Aug. 20, according to a report in the Philippine Inquirer.

As of late Friday, it remained unclear why the military had not earlier publicized the information about the incidents involving the flares and the aircraft.

Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond on Friday for a comment on the report.

Team Eastern Interest
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