Senate minority seeks probe into China plane landings in Davao

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition senators called for an investigation into the repeated landings of Chinese military aircraft in President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown of Davao City.

The minority bloc filed Senate Resolution No. 779 on Monday, July 9, seeking to determine if the successive "technical stops" violated the constitutional prohibition on the presence of foreign troops in the country.

The bloc is composed of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and senators Leila de Lima, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Antonio Trillanes IV.

"The successive occurrence of Chinese military planes making technical stops in Davao City raises the question of whether the Constitution's proscription against the presence of foreign troops in the country is being violated by the Duterte administration," the bloc said in their 5-page resolution.

They cited Article 18, Section 25 of the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits foreign military bases, troops, or facilities in the country except under a treaty duly concurred with by the Senate and, when necessary, ratified by the Filipino people.

The opposition pointed out that the Philippines has no existing treaty with China on the use of Philippine military and civilian facilities by the latter's military aircraft.

In the absence of such a treaty, the minority senators said "there is a need to clarify the role of the DND (Department of National Defense) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) in approving, monitoring, and overseeing the transit, passage, presence, and use of Philippine facilities by foreign military aircraft."

Special Assistant to the President Bong Go earlier confirmed that a Chinese government plane landed at the Davao International Airport on June 8. The aircraft was identified as People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) military transport plane IL-76.

Go said the landing was done so that the plane could refuel. Permission "was granted and given with specific conditions for compliance by the requesting party."

Weeks after, Malacañang confirmed that another plane landed on June 23 in Davao City.

"The circumstances of the Chinese military aircraft landing in Davao City, of all airports in the Philippines, is giving rise to speculations that [their] use of of Davao City airport's facilities is a personal favor granted by the President to China without the knowledge of the AFP, the latter being completely ignorant and clueless of the details of the presence of foreign military aircraft in one of the country's gateways," opposition senators said in their resolution.

Trillanes earlier said the June 8 landing was not the first time, citing an unnamed source from the Philippine Military Academy. He said the first instance happened a "few weeks" before it was reported.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a member of the majority bloc, also previously questioned the landing of the military plane and warned that it has security implications.

"What if a hundred Chinese military aircraft suddenly request to refuel simultaneously in NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport), Mactan airport, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and Clark? We might all wake up a colony again, this time by China," Lacson had said.

The Senate has yet to conduct a probe into China’s militarization of the South China Sea, as well as the Duterte administration's foreign policy. (READ: Senate inaction on China: No inquiry amid militarization)

Senate foreign relations committee chairperson Loren Legarda earlier told Rappler she has scheduled a hearing on July 30, a week after Duterte's 3rd State of the Nation Address. It is unclear if Senate Resolution No. 779 would be included in that inquiry. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.