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Air Force to get big lift

Aquino commits modern air assets to guard PH skies President Benigno Aquino III vowed Monday to acquire fighter jets, air defense radar and other equipment within three years to bolster the country’s weak air force, amid a territorial dispute with China. “I assure you that before I step down from office, our skies will be guarded by modern air assets,” he said in a speech during a visit at an air base in Clark, north of Manila. The speech was broadcast live on radio and television. Among these are “lead-in fighters, long-range patrol aircraft, close-air-support aircraft”, as well as transport planes, attack- and multi-use helicopters, air defense radar and flight simulators. He gave no details of the aircraft and equipment, or the terms for their acquisition. In January an Aquino spokesman announced the government would buy 12 South Korean FA-50 fighter jets to be used for “training, interdiction and disaster response.” The Philippines retired the last of its US-designed F-5 fighters in 2005 and lacks air defense. Aquino, whose-six-year term ends in mid-2016, has set about modernizing the military in his first three years in office as tensions rise with China over overlapping territorial claims to islands and waters in the South China Sea. The main focus was initially the Navy with the acquisition of two Hamilton-class cutters decommissioned by the US Coast Guard. The first of the two refurbished vessels became the Philippine Navy’s flagship in 2011, replacing a warship initially built for the US Navy in World War II. The second cutter is set to arrive in the Philippines later this year. Aquino said Monday he was committed to reversing the under-spending on military capability that he said had characterized the Philippines since the early 1990s. “Over the past decades the Air Force had its wings broken and we relied on old and rickety planes and equipment,” he said. Congress has since authorized the Defense Department to spend P75 billion to modernize the military over the next five years, Aquino added. The President said he also wanted to put an end to air mishaps such as the recent crash of an OV-10 630 Bronco in Palawan. “These are the incidents that we have wanted to avoid from the start. This is why we are focused on upgrading our Armed Forces,” Aquino said. The President noted that the P28 billion spent for the military modernization program since 2010 was on track to surpassing the P33 billion spent by the past three administrations. “There is no doubt: we are now entering a new era in the history of the Philippine Air Force... And with the passage of the New AFP Modernization Act, we will be spending P75 billion for the upgrade over the next five years,” he added. The measure exempts from public bidding certain major defense purchases such as aircraft, vessels, tanks, armored vehicles, communications equipment and high-powered firearms. Military planners have identified 39 projects to be covered by the revised modernization program. The Air Force will acquire 21 additional UH-1B multipurpose helicopters to replace the Vietnam War-vintage UH-1H (Huey) helicopters and 10 attack helicopters in the next two years. The modernization program would also include the purchase of three medium-lift aircraft to complement the Air Force’s C-130 Hercules cargo planes. Lawmakers on Monday supported the President’s plan to give the United States, Japan and other allies’ access to military bases in the country to end China’s “bullying” in the West Philippine Sea, but said there was a need to make sure the Constitution was not violated. Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo, Quezon City Rep. Winnie Castelo, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, Laguna Rep. Benjie Agarao, and Tarlac Rep. Noel Villanueva agreed that the proposal would help boost the defense capability of the Philippines. “I am for that in principle. But we need to find our way around the Constitution. Basing rights to foreign armed forces are prohibited by our organic law. But I would support that because such bases are deterrent to any country that may have hostile intentions against the Philippines,” Aggabao said. Quimbo added: “We must now accept the fact that we cannot defend the country all by ourselves in the face of the aggression of China. We have to set aside the old concept that nationalism meant just being by ourselves and that interdependence with other countries meant compromising our independence. We must seek a friendly cooperation with other countries to strengthen our country.” Quimbo pointed out. Castelo, on the other hand, warned that giving other countries access to bases here would violate the Constitution. “We have terminated the 1991 Philippines-US military bases agreement and rejected a new treaty to replace it,” Castelo said. Baguilat added that he wanted to know what safeguards or limitations would be placed on such military arrangements. But Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano III said the government should also talk to China, saying the country should not position itself as if it were preparing for war. “Why not talk to China also? Why do we have to be posturing for war? Let us strengthen ties with our enemies rather than taunt them,” Albano said. Also on Monday, the Foreign Affairs Department called on China to respect Philippine maritime law and condemned its threat to launch a counterstrike against the Philippines if it continued to provoke Beijing. The Akbayan Party-list also slammed the editorial published by The People’s Daily, with Rep. Walden Bello describing it as “utter lunacy.” “This is typical irrational talk usually heard from despotic states that have no patience or respect for international law. Now, no less than the official mouthpiece of China’s ruling elite is openly calling for an act of aggression,” Bello said. “Filipinos will not take this sitting down. If China threatens our country with a military strike, then we will respond with a global day of action against threats of aggression,” Bello said, referring to plans to picket China’s embassies and consular offices. Bello also called on the Chinese government to refrain from issuing inflammatory statements and advised them to act more diplomatically, instead. He said that Chinese citizens should stop their government from acting and talking like a rogue state. “China forgets that by claiming to be a superpower means it is expected to act according to such stature and treat its neighbors with civility and respect. Issuing threats is the work of rogue states like North Korea, not of a country which is claiming to be the next geopolitical powerhouse,” Bello said. With Maricel V. Cruz, Vito Barcelo and AFP
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