By Priam Nepomuceno

AIR PATROL. A Philippine Air Force FA-50 (left) and US B-52Hs bomber (right) aircraft fly over the Philippine exclusive economic zone during a joint maritime cooperative activity on Feb. 19, 2024. The air patrol covered areas 90 nautical miles west of Candon, Ilocos Sur, and 50 nautical miles northwest of Lubang, Occidental Mindoro. (Screengrab from video courtesy of PAF)

MANILA – The country’s top security adviser on Wednesday rejected China’s claims that the recent joint air patrols by Filipino and American aircraft in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are causing trouble in the region.

“Our engagements with the United States are well within our rights as a sovereign and independent nation, aimed at promoting maritime security and upholding international law. We reject any assertion from other countries that seek to undermine our legal and legitimate activities,” National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año said in a statement.

Año also added that Monday’s joint air patrol between the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the US Pacific Air Force is a lawful and routine exercise aimed at enhancing interoperability between allied forces and promoting regional peace and security in the Indo-Pacific Region.

The combined air patrol, which involved three PAF FA-50 light jet fighters and one US Pacific Air Force B-52 strategic jet bomber, covered areas 90 nautical miles west of Candon, Ilocos Sur, and 50 nautical miles northwest of Lubang, (Occidental) Mindoro.

“The joint patrols conducted inside Philippine territory serve the purpose of enhancing maritime security, promoting regional stability, and upholding international law. These patrols help deter illegal activities, ensure freedom of navigation, and contribute to the protection of shared interests in the region,” the NSA pointed out.

He also said that international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), recognizes the sovereign rights of coastal states.

“We urge China to respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines conducted within its territory consistent with its national interests and international law,” Año stressed.

He added the joint air patrol with the US is part of the country’s long-standing defense cooperation and that the Philippines will continue to work with its friends, allies, and partners to ensure a secure and prosperous future for all nations in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Año said adhering to established legal frameworks is crucial for fostering peaceful relations, stability, and cooperation between the Philippines and China.

He also emphasized that adherence to international norms is essential to the peaceful coexistence of neighboring states.

“Respecting and following international law is essential for maintaining peace, resolving disputes, and advancing our shared interests in the region,” he concluded. (PNA)