MANILA, Philippines - Warships and aircraft on patrol in the South China Sea are arriving in the Philippines from US bases in Guam and Japan, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday.
Lorenzana clarified the US is not allowed to use the Philippines as a staging point to patrol the South China Sea.
He added the US aircraft, including the P3 Orion surveillance planes often seen at Clark Air Base in Pampanga, were on administration stop.
The US warships and aircraft only dock in the Philippines for the needed refueling and resupply, he said.
“What is allowed and what the US has been doing was to send their aircraft and ships from Guam and Japan to patrol the South China Sea,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana though conceded the Philippines is benefiting from the freedom of overflight and navigation conducted by the US in the region.
“After loitering in the South China Sea, they pass by Clark or Manila or Subic to refuel and resupply and go back to where they come from in what is called admin (administrative) stopover,” he said.
However, in several instances, especially during the term of former president Benigno Aquino, the US surveillance planes were also monitored in Palawan.
Lorenzana, however, gave assurance the Philippines-US alliance remains the cornerstone of the country’s security posture.
But he said it is unlikely that the Philippines, under the Duterte administration, will allow the US to make the country its springboard in the freedom overflights and freedom of navigation patrols over the South China Sea.
As this developed, the Philippine Navy’s third frigate, BRP Andres Bonifacio, arrived Thursday at Pier 13, South Harbor in Manila after more than a month of voyage.
“The Philippine Navy tendered a traditional welcome ceremony for its newly acquired Del Pilar Class Frigate upon her arrival here,” Navy spokesman Capt. Lued Lincuna said.
The Philippine government acquired the former US Coast Guard cutter last year through the US Excess Defense Articles program.
Navy Capt. Brendo Casaclang brought home Bonifacio to join sister ships BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Gregorio del Pilar that the Navy has been using in territorial and maritime patrol.
Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim led officials in the welcome ceremonies yesterday. – With Rainier Allan Ronda
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