From GMA News (Feb 27): Armed Forces defends deployment of US surveillance aircraft in Pampanga
The Philippine Armed Forces on Friday defended the deployment of US surveillance aircraft at the former US air base in Clark airfield in Pampanga, arguing that the deployment was meant to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.
AFP spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla explained that the P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft was among the activities approved by the PH-US Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board for this year.
Padilla added that the deployment was not directed against China, which was among the countries claiming the Spratly Islands. The five others claimants are Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
"They [the US] said they don't take sides in the dispute in Asia and we respect the United States for that... But just the same, it is to the interest of everyone to ensure that commerce and trade really flows in these seas and that this is not hampered," explained Padilla.
The AFP spokesperson said this was not the first time for the Americans to deploy surveillance aircraft in the country, with P3 Orions having been deployed previously.
However, Padilla could not say when the newer P8 was first deployed in the Philippines. Neither could he categorically say when the mission would be completed.
Nevertheless, Padilla said the Filipino military personnel were allowed onboard the aircraft during patrols. "We continue to share information, whatever the mission,” added Padilla. “This is also in our interest."