Sobejana plea to Congress: Give AFP more funds to better defend PH territory
MANILA, Philippines—Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana on Thursday (April 21) appealed to Congress to increase spending on military upgrade amid the continued incursions of China in the West Philippine Sea.
At an online press briefing, the AFP chief said the Philippine military needed more assets to protect Philippine territory against assaults by foreign powers, mainly China.
“We are calling on our legislators to increase the modernization fund so we can buy more ships,” Sobejana said.
He said the government’s “rigid” procurement system was also making the upgrading process more difficult.
The AFP has long urged lawmakers to create a separate procurement system for defense needs for faster implementation of the AFP modernization program.
“These things we hope can be reviewed or given attention so we will be more effective in performing our mandate in securing the people and defending our territory,” Sobejana said.
The lingering presence of Chinese ships in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has prompted the Philippine government to file diplomatic protests and increase maritime patrols.
More than 200 Chinese militia vessels had been spotted at the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, which is within the Philippines’ EEZ, in early March.
China all but ignored the protests and had issued a statement saying it owned Julian Felipe Reef and the waters around it which was a direct affront to Philippine foreign affairs and defense officials.
The insistence of China that it owned the Philippines’ EEZ prompted the Philippine military to deploy most of its major naval assets to the province of Palawan, which was near the site of the looming Chinese invasion.
Even naval assets up for retirement had been deployed in a sign of Philippine naval limitations.
“Each ship that will patrol that area, it will take that boat two to three months to move around the entire area,” Sobejana said. “It’s almost the same length as the Philippines but in the western seaboard,” he said.
Sobejana said the Philippine Navy was currently building up its capabilities “to protect the Philippines’ territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.”
The Navy has long been waiting for funding to procure offshore patrol vessels, landing docks, corvettes and other assets.
The Philippines continued to have one of the weakest armed forces in the region despite continuing efforts to upgrade in recent years and Duterte’s expression of support for the upgrade program.
An assessment by the Philippine Department of National Defense in 2020 said the upgrade program was not likely to meet its deadline of completing a second stage, called Horizon 2.
Horizon 2 has a timetable for completion of 2018 to 2022, the year Duterte will step down. It was designed to achieve minimum credible defense capability for the AFP through more patrol vessels, corvettes, multi-role fighters, land-based missile systems and other assets.
But the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, had set back the modernization schedule and prompted the Philippine government to divert funds earmarked for more military assets to pandemic response.
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