The Navy’s C-90 aircraft launched its maiden maritime patrol on Wednesday and spotted nine Chinese paramilitary, suspected military and civilian fishing vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
The aircraft, one of the two C-90s that the Japanese government donated to the Philippines in November last year, also spotted four Filipino fishing vessels inside the shoal.
Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) Spokesman Lt. Col. Isagani Nato said the Beechcraft King Air C-90, a newly commissioned fixed-wing aircraft of the Navy, flew around the Scarborough at 800 feet for its maiden.
During the patrol, the aircraft sighted four Filipino fishing boats along with nine Chinese vessels comprising of four Chinese Coast Guard vessels, four “unknown” Chinese vessels and a Chinese fishing vessel.
Nato added the Filipino pilots heard no challenge from the Chinese Coast Guard during the sortie.
While the Scarborough Shoal forms part of the Philippine territory, Beijing has been exercising a de facto control over the area since occupying it several years ago following a standoff of its vessels with the Philippine Navy’s flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar.
In the past, China even attacked Filipino fishing vessels, which managed to saunter inside the shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos for many centuries.
Nato said the C-90’s patrol of the shoal was its first military mission.
“Its employment boosted the capability of the Navy to conduct limited airlift, reconnaissance and surveillance within the area of responsibility of Nolcom. It will also complement the efforts of the Philippine Air Force to monitor and watch over the three maritime areas in Northern and Central Luzon,” he said.
In 2016 the Department of National Defense, through then-Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin, signed a contract with Japan, leasing five C-90s from Tokyo, which the Philippine military uses in patrolling the country’s maritime waters.
The finalization of the acquisition contract was preceded by China’s continued and unchallenged activities within the Philippine territory, notably in the shoals, where Manila exercises jurisdictions, but which have been either occupied or sealed by Beijing.
Two of the five C-90s were later donated by Japan to the military.
Nato said the Nolcom will use every available assets in order to protect its area of jurisdictions, especially from the intruding Chinese.
“Nolcom will utilize all available assets and resources to protect our national territory, including its northern maritime areas, and assert our sovereign rights over our maritime domain,” Nato said.
“Nolcom will continue to do its mandate that will be nonprovocative, strictly adhering to the international law and in line with the directives and policies of the national government,” he added.
Meanwhile, a Japanese destroyer will dock at Pier 13 in South Harbor, Manila, on Friday for a two-day goodwill visit, according to Philippine Navy Spokesman Capt. Lued Lincuna.
The JS Amagiri (DD-154), with one DH-60J patrol helicopter of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, will berth after a customary meeting procedure with BRP Rajah Humabon (PS11) at the vicinity of Corregidor Island in Manila Bay.