'Philippine planes challenged every time they fly over features claimed by China in South China Sea'

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said his country responds by saying their planes are "passing over Philippine airspace". PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Philippines continues to get warnings from China whenever it flies around over the features claimed by Beijijng, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Tuesday (March 20), but without referring to the Spratlys in the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea.

"These (Philippine) planes, every time that they fly over these features of the Chinese, they will challenge," Mr Lorenzana said.

"They will say that you are entering Chinese airspace. Just exchange of words. Then we will say: 'No, we are passing over Philippine airspace.' It's just a play of words everytime we have patrols," he said.

"These (Philippine) planes, every time that they fly over these features of Chinese, they will challenge," Mr Lorenzana said.

China has transformed some of the reefs claimed by the Philippines in the Spratlys into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities, which has become a concern for several nations.

Three of these seven artificial islands have 3-kilometre airstrips that may be used by China to land military planes in the future.

For its part, the Philippines conducts regular patrols in its maritime domains in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and Philippine (formerly Benham) Rise as part of its mandate, Mr Lorenzana said.

Aside from the aerial patrols, the Philippines holds naval patrols and sends vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

The Philippines recently acquired six drones worth US$13.76 million (S$18.14 million) from the United States through a grant. These drones could also be used to patrol those waters.

"Now that we have the drones and we have what you call the marine patrols, we send our naval patrols with censors every now and then towards the areas," Mr Lorenzana said, referring to the West Philippine Sea and Philippine Rise.

But he said the drones would also be used in the southern part of the Philippines to patrol the sea lanes of Sulu.

"They can be transported easily because they will be put in a container. These are very powerful, very silent and can stay aloft for 24 hours," he said.

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