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PAF official: Unidentified aircraft intruded PHL airspace over Panatag Shoal

A Philippine Air Force (PAF) spokesperson on Thursday confirmed an unidentified aircraft intruded over Philippine airspace on Monday, particularly over the disputed Panatag Shoal, but authorities could not confirm its type and origin.    “We are coordinating with Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), and they have furnished us information from the Manila Area Control Center,” Lieutenant Colonel Miguel Okol told GMA News Online over the phone.   “An unidentified aircraft was tracked in the periphery. We already have the altitude, and the air speed of the aircraft,” he added.   “Like in other countries, the next step is to plot the data and detect a trend, a pattern,” he explained.   There were speculations the aircraft was a Chinese jetfighter, but the PAF said this has yet to be proven. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s an unidentified flying object,” said Okol.   Standoff over Panatag Shoal   China and the Philippines are engaged in a standoff over Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, 220 kilometers west of Zambales province, since last April after efforts by Philippine authorities to arrest Chinese fishermen supposedly poaching marine life in the area were blocked by Chinese government vessels.   But Okol said the aircraft tracked over Philippine airspace Monday could “be… from another country or maybe an airline that lost course. It would be very hard to determine.”   However, the ability to identify the aircraft… “is one capability we are trying to provide,” the PAF official noted.   Philippine air defense system including radars are restricted, according to him.   “We have radars but they’re of limited capability. We are able to track and monitor the periphery of major airports within the Greater Metro Manila,” he said.   Okol said the Philippines is in the process of upgrading its system, including its equipment.   The US military plans to provide a land-based radar to the Philippines, as the country faces an escalating dispute with China over territorial rights off its shore, the French News Agency reported on Tuesday.   The radar would form part of a "watch center" to help track ships off the island nation's coastline, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.   "We are in the initial planning stages of assisting the Philippines with a National Coast Watch Center," Major Catherine Wilkinson told AFP.   "This center will improve their maritime domain awareness of a breadth of security issues including counter proliferation of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) to countering illegal smuggling," she said.   Plans to provide a powerful radar to the Philippines came after Philippine President Benigno Aquino III paid a visit last week to the White House, where he was offered a robust show of support, AFP added.   Defense paradigm shift   “We are in some sort of paradigm shift,” PAF’s Okol said. “We are in the process of resurging our air defense capability,” he said.   He noted that over the past few years Philippine air defense was internally structured. “We have optimized our defense for domestic threats.   “I’m sure you’re well aware of our terrorists, communists, and separatists. We were addressing that problem,” he added.   Changes in the status quo pushed the Philippine government to refocus its attention, the PAF official said. “Supporting the peace initiatives of the government, we divert our attention to our external threats.”   “The Capability Upgrade Program has already reached the Senior Leadership Level of the defense. We’re just waiting for the final approval of the President,” Okol noted.   The program covers four major components that include radars, long-range patrol aircraft, effective command and control system, and fighter aircrafts. —VS, GMA News