Aquino bares AFP buildup vs ‘bullies in our backyard’
President Aquino on Tuesday announced a $1.8-billion military upgrade to help defend the country’s maritime territory against “bullies,” amid an ever-worsening dispute with China.
In thinly veiled comments referring to China, Aquino vowed during a speech to mark the Philippine Navy’s 115th anniversary that the Armed Forces would be given the resources necessary to protect Philippine sovereignty.
“We have a clear message to the world: The Philippines is for Filipinos, and we have the capability to resist bullies entering our backyard,” Aquino told naval chiefs.
Aquino detailed a P75-billion ($1.82 billion) military modernization program that gives priority to upgrading the Navy, which is one of the weakest in Southeast Asia. China announced in March its defense budget for 2013 would be about $115 billion.
The President said by 2017 the Philippines would acquire two new frigates, two helicopters capable of antisubmarine warfare, three fast vessels for coastal patrols and eight amphibious assault vehicles.
“We will also improve our communications, intelligence and surveillance systems,” he said.
Aquino said the government had already spent P28 billion on military modernization over the past three years, including on two refurbished Hamilton-class cutters acquired from the US coast guard.
The first, renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar, entered service as the Navy’s new flagship in 2011. The second is due to be delivered in August.
The Philippines had also announced this year that it would acquire for its coast guard 10 new patrol boats from Japan.
The increasingly bitter territorial dispute with China is over competing claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is believed to sit above vast amounts of oil and gas. It is home to rich fishing grounds.
China insists it has sovereign rights to most of the West Philippine Sea, including waters approaching the coast of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
China has in recent years taken what the Philippines and Vietnam say are increasingly aggressive actions to assert its claims.
In the latest incident, the Philippines said Tuesday that three Chinese vessels—a warship and two maritime surveillance vessels—had established a presence near the Filipino-claimed Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin.
“We (have) filed with the Chinese embassy in Manila our protest on the provocative and illegal presence of Chinese government ships around Ayungin Shoal,” foreign affairs department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
“The intrusions and the activities… in our (waters) is part of the Chinese projection of their claim which we believe is excessive and in violation of international law.”
Second Thomas Shoal is a tiny group of islets and reefs near the Spratly Islands chain, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Palawan.
It is very close to Mischief Reef, which the Philippines controlled until China built structures on it in the mid-1990s.
The Philippines says China has also since last year occupied a shoal 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the main Philippine island of Luzon.
Even with the extra spending announced by Aquino on Tuesday, China’s military budget would still dwarf Philippines’.
China announced in March its defense budget for 2013 would be about $115 billion.
The Philippines is also facing intense diplomatic pressure from Taiwan after the Filipino coastguard shot dead a Taiwanese fishermen this month in waters near the South China Sea.
The Philippines insists the Taiwanese fishing vessel was illegally in Filipino waters. However, Taiwan denies this and has suspended important trade ties in a bid to punish the Philippines.
Originally posted: 8:55 pm | Tuesday, May 21st, 2013