No Chinese aerostat or airship was spotted on Panganiban or Mischief Reef in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) by the nomad plane that the military sent there on December 1 to verify the recent sighting that was reported by an international geospatial intelligence solutions company.
Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Adm. Rene Medina said Tuesday to Palawan News that based on their marine patrol (MARPAT), no aerostat was sighted by their nomad plane.
“Negative sighting based doon sa MARPAT na ginawa para ma-verify ‘yong sabi ay na-sight ng ImageSat International (ISI),” he said in a brief phone interview.
He said what were sighted in the atoll area were three vehicles on the north side of the reef; a Jiangdao vessel class (056 type) corvette that was approximately 4.5 nautical miles south of the reef; two Chinese fishing vessels on the west side; a cargo supply vessel inside the reef, and a China Coast Guard vessel within the reef.
The WESCOM was ordered to make the verification after the ISI tweeted on November 24 a satellite image of the aerostat on the artificial island that China constructed on the atoll.
The aerostat, according to the ISI, allows China to have “intelligence” advantage in the disputed region
“For the first time, #China’s aerostat, probably for #military #intelligence-gathering purposes, seen by #ISI at #Mischief Reef. The use of aerostat allows China a continuous situational awareness in this resource-rich region,” ImageSat International tweet claimed.
Mischief Reef is a ring-shaped atoll that skirts a large lagoon in the WPS, estimated to be 130 nautical miles off mainland Palawan. Although owned by the country, China has reclaimed the atoll middle of 2010 to establish there an artificial island, which reportedly includes a 2,700-meter runway.
It became a subject of international news in 2016 when the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague affirmed the Philippines’ claim over the atoll.
In its decision, the PCA ruled that Mischief Reef falls within areas where only the Philippines has the right to maritime zones.