West Philippine Sea

Plane flying Lacson to Pag-asa Island receives China warning

Sofia Tomacruz
Plane flying Lacson to Pag-asa Island receives China warning

PAG-ASA TRIP. Senator Panfilo Lacson (left) aboard the aircraft bound for Pag-asa Island, November 20, 2021.

Lacson team video screenshot

Senator Panfilo Lacson's camp says the Chinese Navy told them their actions were 'unfriendly and dangerous' and that they must 'leave immediately'

Chinese authorities warned an aircraft carrying Senator Panfilo Lacson that it was acting in an “unfriendly and dangerous” manner as it flew to Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, and toward what Beijing called its “military zone.”

The incident took place on Saturday, November 20, when Lacson, a presidential candidate in the 2022 elections, flew to Pag-asa Island for a meeting with residents and soldiers. Pag-asa is part of the municipality of Kalayaan in the province of Palawan.

In a video shared by Lacson’s team on Sunday, November 21, pilots of the private Pilatus PC-12 aircraft are contacted at least twice, with a person saying they should “leave immediately” to “avoid misjudgment.”

According to Lacson’s team, the warning was from the Chinese Navy. It went: “You are approaching our military zone. Please stay away from the area and leave immediately. Your actions are unfriendly and dangerous. Your actions are dangerous.”

Partido Reporma spokesperson Ashley Acedillo, who joined Lacson on his trip to Pag-asa Island, said the pilots had shared their standard reply to Chinese authorities and had coordinated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines prior to their visit.

Aside from radio warnings, Lacson’s team said the senator also received “Welcome to China” text messages upon landing in Pag-asa – something the presidential aspirant found “unusual.” Similar messages were reported in June 2020, when Philippine defense officials arrived in the island.

Saturday’s incident comes after recent tensions between Manila and Beijing. Just a few days earlier, the Philippine government told China to “back off” after three Chinese coast guard vessels used water cannons to block resupply boats headed toward Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

Beijing’s tactics seen during Lacson’s trip to Pag-asa are the latest display of its attempt to claim ownership over Philippine waters. Similar tactics have been used in the past, often against Philippine military personnel conducting routine patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Lacson earlier said he supports proposals for joint oil and gas exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea, but only on the condition that this would follow the service contract system of the Philippines. 

If China does not agree to partner with the Philippines, Lacson said he would, if elected president, build stronger alliances with militarily powerful countries such as the United States, Australia, and Japan, or nations belonging to the European Union. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.