DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 June) — Palace officials on Sunday said the landing of a Chinese military aircraft at the Davao City International Airport on June 8 was only for refueling purposes and was cleared by Philippine authorities.
First to issue a statement at 2:20 p.m. was Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go who said the landing request was “received, processed and cleared by relevant Philippine Government agencies” and was made “for the specific purpose of refueling.”
He said similar courtesy is extended to Philippine government aircrafts when technical stops are necessary.
Photos of Ilyushing Il-76, a strategic airlifter designed by Soviet Union, immediately made the rounds on social media.
But Go said “technical stops by foreign government and commercial planes, including for refueling purposes, are closely coordinated by our relevant Government agencies following established domestic procedure and in consideration of existing agreements.”
Go assured the Departments of National Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and other relevant agencies will work to ensure the requesting party complies with domestic procedures and requirements.
The Chinese military aircraft was en route to New Zealand, according to Major Ezra Balagtey, public information officer at the Eastern Mindanao Command.
In a text message, Balagtey said the Chinese aircraft landed at the Davao International Aircraft at 11:30 a.m. and immediately left at 1 p.m.
Go’s statement did not indicate the aircraft’s designation but Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement at 4:19 p.m. said it was bound for Cairns, Australia.
“As verified and reported by CAAP, no movement of passengers was made outside the terminal building. The Chinese aircraft used a local handler, Transnational Aviation Support Service, to arrange the requirements for the permit. The flight was given an entry and exit permit, like any other private flights,” Roque said.
Lt. Col. Ritchie Pabilonia, commander of the Philippine Air Force’s Tactical Operations Group said in a separate text message that the request for landing was arranged by the Chinese attaché in Manila.
The diplomatic relationship of the Philippines with China has warmed up since 2016, with President Rodrigo Duterte calling the Chinese government a “friend.”
Duterte’s “pivot” in 2016 was allegedly intended to pursue a more independent foreign policy and came just as relations with then US President Barrack Obama soured, Duterte claiming Obama criticized him for alleged human rights violations in his war on drugs.
The Duterte administration, however, also drew flak for seemingly taking a soft stance on Chinese militarization in the West Philippine Sea.
The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in The Hague, the Netherlands upheld the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights in a decision dated July 12, 2016.
“China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention; and further declares that the Convention superseded any historic rights, or sovereign rights or jurisdiction, in excess of the limits imposed therein,” the court ruled. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)