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PHL military deploys aircraft over Reed Bank due to Chinese presence

The Philippine military on Wednesday sent an aircraft to the disputed Reed Bank near Palawan after receiving a report that Chinese patrol boats were trying to harass some Filipino oil explorers in the area. The Chinese were allegedly claiming that the oil explorers from the Department of Energy were inside Chinese territory, according to Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command. “Pero alam naman natin na pasok na pasok sa atin yun so nagpadala kami ng eroplano (But we know that the area is well within our territory, so we sent an aircraft there)," said Sabban, referring to the hotly contested oil-rich area located west of Palawan. Apart from the Philippines and China, ownership of the Reed Bank is also being claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. Reed Bank is part of the disputed Spratlys Island or the Kalayaan Island Group. The seabed in the area is said to contain about 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 440 million barrels of oil. Asked if the Armed Forces would recommend the filing of a Philippine diplomatic protest with the Chinese government for their actuation, Sabban said: “That’s now up to the higher-ups. It's beyond our authority. We are just concerned with the security." Sabban said that upon receiving the report, a Navy Islander aircraft and an Air Force OV-10 bomber plane were sent to the area to check. The official said the military has a 24/7 communication with the survey vessel.
View Reed Bank in a larger map Sabban said while the government insists that the Reed Bank belongs to the Philippines, it has made it a point not to station government troops there to prevent confrontation with other claimant countries. Survey vessels and boats, however, are allowed to go to Reed Bank to conduct oil exploration projects. Sabban said the Chinese patrollers were no longer in the area when the Philippine aircraft arrived. “Siguro upon seeing yung reaction natin, umalis na yung mga Chinese patrol boats (The Chinese left probably after seeing our reaction)," he said. “Wala namang confrontation. Ayaw naming papalakihin pa iyan (There was no confrontation. That’s no big deal). So it will depend on higher authorities (what to do next)," Sabban said. He said despite the incident, the Philippine military will maintain a “defensive posture" in the disputed territory. - Mark D. Merueñas/KBK/JV, GMA News