Tension remains high at the Scarborough Shoal as a Chinese plane buzzed a Filipino fishing vessel in the area, but the Philippines will not use what little force it has to prevent other incidents, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Tuesday.

“Ang tension ay mataas pa rin dun… as of now may standoff pa rin tayo,” Gazmin said in a press briefing.

Citing reports from the Coast Guard ship stationed at Scarborough, Gazmin said a Chinese plane “buzzed” a Filipino fishing vessel on Monday afternoon.

“Napagsabihan sila (Filipino fishermen) na umalis sa area, nag-buzzing ‘yung isang eroplano. Hindi lang natin ma-identify kung ano, pero we are certain that it was a Chinese aircraft,” the defense chief said.

China ‘showing flag’

Buzzing, in military parlance, means to fly less than 500 feet over a particular area or “target.”

“They’re (China) doing that because they can. It can be seen as provoking though it’s officially called persuasion flight, that’s a way of showing their flag,” a military source said on condition of anonymity.

“It’s the same as when that bigger ship came to aid the smaller surveillance vessels last week,” the source added.

It was the second incident involving a Chinese aircraft, following the “flybys” of a blue-striped white plane near the Coast Guard’s BRP Pampanga on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, a white Chinese ship “harassed” a Philippine-registered yacht carrying nine French nationals commissioned by the National Historical Institute to conduct archaeological surveys.

New fishing vessel spotted

Gazmin said a new Chinese fishing vessel has been spotted with China’s two maritime surveillance ships.

The new fishing vessel came after 12 others, some loaded with corals, giant clams, and sharks caught in Philippine waters, left in groups last week, he said.

‘We can’t do anything but protest’

Despite the incidents, Gazmin admitted that the Philippines cannot do anything but file diplomatic protests as the country cannot afford to go to war.

“Any action that is more or less considered aggressive will escalate the tension, right now ang hinahabol natin peaceful solution, di tayo naghahanap ng away,” he said.

“I am very optimistic that we will reach a peaceful conclusion… I’m sure China will not go to war because of this, we cannot afford a war at this time,” the defense chief said.

Defense projects sped up

However, Gazmin noted that the defense department is speeding up projects aimed at enhancing the military’s territorial defense capability.

“We’re looking at acquiring radar sytems, we’re looking at acquiring ships, bigger ships that will be able to protect and enforce the law at saka ‘yung air assets, long range reconnaissance patrol (planes)… para sa ganun nakikita natin kung may papalapit sa ating territory,” he said.

The department has already prepared 50 percent of 138 projects which it will submit for the President’s approval, Gazmin said.

The country’s second Hamilton-class weather high-endurance ship is expected to arrive in the next couple of months, he said.

Meanwhile, the defense chief said he and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario will discuss the developments at Scarborough Shoal with their US counterparts Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton, when they meet in Washington on April 30. (John Roson)

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