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China plane only refueling in Davao? 'Very obvious lie,' says Trillanes

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition senator Antonio Trillanes IV accused Special Assistant to the President Bong Go of lying when he said that a Chinese military plane landed in Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, just to refuel.

Trillanes said it was not the first time a Chinese plane landed there, citing an unnamed source from the Philippine Military Academy. He said the first instance happened a "few weeks" before the reported landing.

"To be clear, this statement of Secretary Bong Go [about] refueling, that's a lie. Where will this plane go from Davao? Or where did it come from, except Davao was the ultimate destination?" Trillanes said in an interview on ANC's Headstart.

"We're trying to speculate what really went down. The fact that it's a cargo plane, most probably they unloaded some precious cargo. We're trying to verify on the ground what was unloaded," he added.

Go earlier confirmed that a Chinese military plane was cleared for landing at the Davao International Airport. The aircraft was identified as People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) military transport plane IL-76.

Go said the landing was done so that the plane could refuel. Permission "was granted and given with specific conditions for compliance by the requesting party."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said there was clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

But Trillanes questioned the act and said "it is wrong on so many levels." Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier raised the same issue. (READ: Lacson questions landing of China plane in PH: 'We might wake up a colony')

"First, there is a process before such [a] plane can land. Second, of all the airports in the country, why refuel in Davao City? The third one is the apparent cover-up of Secretary Bong Go. He threw in that very obvious lie that the plane went there for refueling. The cover-up itself is wrong," Trillanes said.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua echoed Go's statement and said the aircraft made the landing just to refuel. The ambassador added that the Chinese personnel followed Philippine protocols.

"The landing is very simple, it's for refueling. The plane [was] on its way to New Zealand for a bilateral military exercise," said Zhao during a chance interview with reporters.

"If you do not allow the Chinese there to land or fly over your airspace, we are not there to do that because you might shoot them down," he added.

Senate probe?

Trillanes said minority senators are eyeing a probe into the landing of the foreign military plane on Philippine soil.

"Hopefully, there is a line to their (the Senate's) friendliness to this administration. When it comes to our national interest, our national security, they should at least give it a chance to be investigated," Trillanes said.

It is unclear, however, if the committees headed by administration senators would agree to such a probe.

At present, there are at least 3 resolutions calling for an investigation into China's reported aggression in the West Philippine Sea, including the presence of missiles in the Spratly Islands, where the Philippines is among the claimants.

The Chinese aircraft's landing comes as the Philippines and China remain embroiled in a dispute over the West Philippine Sea. The most recently reported incident between the two countries involves the China Coast Guard taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal). (READ: To prove fruits of PH-China 'friendship,' Roque brings fishermen to press briefing– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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