Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration confirmed on Sunday that a Chinese military aircraft landed in Davao City on Friday, as reported by local media.

Viral social media posts spread images of the plane’s visit to Duterte’s hometown, prompting a response from Special Assistant to the President Bong Go.

“There are reports from social media showing a Chinese government plane landing in the Philippines. The request for landing was received, processed, and cleared by relevant Philippine government agencies,” Rappler reported Go as saying in a statement on Sunday.

Further details were provided by presidential spokesman Harry Roque who said the aircraft – identified as an Ilyushin IL-76 transport plane – stopped for refueling and no passengers left the airport terminal, according to PhilStar Global.

There was some speculation as to why the aircraft chose Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, where he previously served as mayor before becoming president.

Security analyst Chester Cabalza, vice-president at the Center of Research and Strategic Studies at the Development Academy of the Philippines said it showed Beijing’s “preferential treatment” for the Philppine president.

Chinese aircraft

“We could infer China is giving importance with its relationship to our president and with the country. There’s more impact on this because China is giving preferential treatment to President Duterte and to his city that is Davao,” he told ANC’s Headstart.

The debate about the current Philippines administration’s China policy raged on after the plane landing, with the country’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano arguing Sunday that the pivot towards friendlier ties to China has yielded “more gains.”

“Under the management and administration of President Duterte, we have more gains today. The previous approach is loud but (there are) a lot of losses. There are victories, there are gains but many losses. But doing it through a prudent and patient diplomatic approach, there are many results,” Cayetano was quoted by BusinessWorld as telling reporters Sunday.

Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University, who is also a frequent Asia Times contributor, disagreed with Cayetano, arguing that Duterte has “overly emphasized” engagement with China, cautioning against being “meek and humble.”

“If the logic of Cayetano is to be followed, then there should be no incidents with the Chinese regarding our fishermen who are in the area. However, there are frequent harassments done by the Chinese and the Duterte administration ignores these,” he told BusinessWorld in a phone message.

“The fairest way of looking at this is to say it has been a mixed bag. It is unfair to blame the Duterte administration for our deteriorating strategic position on the ground but I think it is also very unfortunate that the Duterte administration has not leveraged our arbitration award in the best way possible,” Heydarian said.