MANILA, Philippines — It must be a matter for serious consideration when the commander in chief himself acknowledges that the maritime tension over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is not “cooling down,” as he also cited the “growing complication” in the region.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. raised that topic in his remarks to members of the Philippine Air Force when he visited Clark Air Base in Pampanga province on Friday to inspect the recommissioned C-130 transport aircraft stationed there.
He was accompanied, among others, by Lt. Gen. Stephen Parreño, commanding general of the Air Force, and US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson.
“The modernization program of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is certainly a response to the growing complication of the situation that we are facing in our region,” Marcos said.
“Unfortunately, we cannot say that this situation is cooling down,” he noted further.
“[W]ith the situation that we are facing now over the West Philippine Sea,” the government has been “very serious” about upgrading the capabilities of the Air Force, the president also said.
“The best that we can hope for is to keep” the current situation “as it is and hopefully continue to lessen the tension,” he added.
Marcos’ remarks made no explicit reference to China, which has been occupying parts of the West Philippine Sea since 2012, or to Washington and its allies, which have been challenging Beijing’s claim over much of the South China Sea.
Addressing government troops in Cebu province in February, Mr. Marcos also tackled the maritime tension involving those nations as well as the Philippines.
He urged the Armed Forces to “guard carefully” the country’s territory since they are now confronted by “the most complex geopolitical situation in the world.”
He noted as well the “intensification of the competition between the superpowers.”
On Friday, the president reaffirmed his commitment to the modernization of the Armed Forces, adding that his government would “give all the tools that are necessary” so the AFP can fulfill its mission “to protect the Republic.”
It was on this air base last year when Marcos vowed, on his first full day as president, to establish a “stronger, bigger and effective Air Force,” as he led the commemoration of its founding anniversary also on July 1.
At that time, the military’s modernization program was already on its “second horizon,” in which P52 billion in assets and equipment had been spent, including the purchase of four radar systems and more than 30 combat utility helicopters.
The third and last horizon of the modernization program covers the period of 2023 to 2028, which is also the expected tenure of the Marcos administration.
The planned acquisitions for the Air Force under that horizon include two to six attack helicopters and other aircraft, 16 utility helicopters, 10 unmanned aerial vehicles, five transport aircraft, and a missile defense system.
In his return to Clark Air Base, the resident directed the Air Force to keep all its assets “ready to go.”
“Should any unfortunate event happen, we must be able to assess and … respond quickly. We cannot afford to waste any time in the mission to save lives,” Marcos said.
The House of Representatives also expressed its support for the military’s modernization program.
Speaker Martin Romualdez said the Armed Forces “should be equipped with the latest technological advances and training to respond to the continuing threats that we face.”
House appropriations panel chair Rep. Elizaldy Co expressed the same support when he addressed a “fellowship” gathering in Cebu City between members of the House and AFP officials led by its chief of staff, Gen. Andres Centino.
In his statement, Co agreed with Romualdez on the “importance of providing sufficient funding to meet the needs of soldiers in facing the challenges of the nation.”