DAVAO, it seems, has become a regular refueling stop for Chinese military planes.Twice already, Philippine authorities reported the landing of a Chinese military aircraft. Philippine Air Force authorities could not determine if the Russian-made Ilyushin 76 which landed in Davao on Saturday June 24 was the same one, bound for Australia, that made a refueling stop at the same airport last June 8.
Davao is the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte. The latest landing has fueled speculation that he had prior knowledge of Chinese aircraft's use of Davao as a regular stop. Not able to retake Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, China has apparently settled for a more natural resources-endowed Philippines. Critics of the Duterte government are now concerned the Philippines has indeed become a province of China.
First, our territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea and now even our airspace has become China's own. Oddly, the Department of Foreign Affairs is also in the dark about these mysterious Chinese military aircraft landings. The DFA has yet to issue an official statement about these landings. Davao airport officials insist they are not emergency landings but refueling stops.
As a former ambassador of the Philippines, I know that foreign airplanes flying over another country's airspace have to inform and secure the clearance of that country's government. During my time, I had to inform (through a formal letter) and secure the approval of foreign governments when former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's chartered airlines flew over their airspace. These overflights were chartered civilian airlines, and yet we at the Philippine Embassy in Hungary and Poland had to seek permission from either the Hungarian or Polish government. An unidentified aircraft without prior clearance can be shot down.
The Chinese aircraft that landed in Davao was a military plane that has surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Because of its size, the plane can also carry a large number of troops. Are they testing our defense capabilities and taking pictures of Philippine landscape and terrain? It is rather strange that these planes do not fill their tanks in Hainan or the military bases the Chinese built in the South China Sea. Why Davao? Is it because China knows the Philippine president is its friend and will not protest?
The late National Security Adviser Roilo Golez raised a valid point when he asked why the government was complacent about this serious security breach. Some senators, mainly from the opposition, are also raising concerns that the DFA and the Department of Defense have not issued any statement at all about these mysterious Chinese aircraft landings.
Often, it is our own government explaining acts of aggression by the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea. For example, the administration was vocal in explaining that the harassment of Filipino fishermen in Bajo Masinloc (Panatag Shoal) off Zambales was a mere barter of Chinese cigarettes and water for the Filipino fishermen's catch. If the Chinese like our fish, then they should catch it themselves, considering they have larger patrol boats plying the disputed waters. This is more than gunboat diplomacy. This is outright piracy and thievery. Bullying and banditry have become the norm of the Chinese navy because of our government's acquiescence.
Some older Filipinos claimed that Japanese posed as farmers in Davao and actually spied for the Japanese Imperial Army before they bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1942 and then invaded the Philippines.
Are those mysterious Chinese aircraft overflight and refueling a prelude to invading the Philippines' southern backdoor? Just asking.
If the next incursion by the Chinese is in Davao, that would further complicate the complex problem in Mindanao posed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Come to think of it, why not pit our Muslim brothers against the Chinese bullies and tell them these foreigners from across the South China Sea are trying to take over ancestral land? The Moros made occupation by the Spaniards and the Americans difficult in Mindanao. Filipino troops on their own fought the Americans in the Visayas. This dark chapter in the Fil-American relations was was highlighted by the battle of Samar, with the Americans taking with them as war booty the famous Balangiga church bell.
The usual suspects—Senators Antonio Trillanes, Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano and independent Rep. Tom Villarin—are most probably asking the same question and raising concerns of ordinary citizens.