The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines - Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Tuesday assured the military once again of the government’s commitment to speed up the procurement of brand-new assets included in the 138 contracts of the 5-year modernization projects for territorial defense.
“The deadline that we’ve set for ourselves for the approval of all these contracts is on July 31, 2012. These projects would surely afford the Philippine Navy with brand-new and ready-for-sea vessels and air assets for its surface, sub-surface and air operations, along with the operational requirements of the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Army,” he said at the Navy’s 114th founding anniversary at the major service headquarters in Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
Gazmin said 58 of the projects were already approved. The Aquino administration was working with a P70-billion budget to modernize the military. The government has been eyeing naval and air assets from other countries after President Benigno Aquino III dropped the idea of buying secondhand F-16 jet fighters from the US.
Navy Day features new PH-made assets
The Philippine Navy, meanwhile, showcased new, Filipino-made attack craft and disaster-response vehicles as additions to its assets and as proof of Filipino skills and ingenuity.
Gazmin led the blessing of the new Multi-Purpose Attack Craft (MPAC) and two Multi-Purpose Disaster Response vehicles during the Navy's 114th founding anniversary. The new assets are all designed and built entirely in the Philippines.
The MPAC is designed for rapid deployment and insertion of troops during special operations. Equipped with caliber 60 machine guns, the MPAC can seat up to 21 persons. Its hull is made of wielded aluminum and has a speed of up to 35 knots. This light water jet-propelled attack boat can also operate in shallow waters and conduct surprise raids and maneuvers and landing of troops on sandy and rocky beaches. The MPAC can be deployed anywhere in the Philippines.
The Multi-Purpose Disaster Response vehicle, meanwhile, is amphibious and can seat up to 20 persons.
Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said the MPAC is just one of three attack craft scheduled to arrive this year. This, he said, is still part of the AFP modernization program.
Pama said that a "work in progress" is the planned acquisition of new warships in addition to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar that was acquired last year. He was referring to the second Hamilton-class cutter from the US Coast Guard, to be renamed to BRP Ramon Alcaraz.
"Also, a work in progress is the planned acquisition of a couple of frigates, five naval helicopters, the continuing expansion of our coast watch system, and other capability upgrade projects," Pama said.
Gazmin said a self-imposed deadline has been set on July 31 of this year for the approval of these contracts.
"These projects would surely afford the Philippine Navy with brand new and ready-for-sea vessels and air assets for its surface, sub-surface and air operations, along with the operational requirements of the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Army," he said.
Still, Gazmin stressed that the Philippines is anti-war.
"I would like to make it clear that we shall always abide by our constitutional mandate that 'The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy,'" he said.
Second cutter due in November
Also in his speech, Gazmin mentioned the transfer of the P450-million second Hamilton-class high-endurance cutter (USS Dallas) from the United States government to the Philippine government. But Gazmin admitted the vessel was stripped of its weapons, just like what the US did to the first Hamilton, now christened as the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, acquired last year by the Navy from the US Coast Guard. The second Hamilton, to be renamed BRP Ramon Alcaraz is expected to arrive in November for commissioning in the following month.
“This is a very encouraging development for the enhancement of the operational capability and readiness of this command (Navy),” said Gazmin, noting the speedy reaction of BRP del Pilar to the Panatag Shoal on April 10.
“I’ve been very well aware of our Navy’s continuous surface patrol operations, especially over the long stretch of the West Philippine Sea. And it did not surprise me to learn that last month, our man of war, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was the first to arrive at Panatag Shoal and reported the developments on the activities of the intruders therein,” he added.
But two Maritime Surveillance Ships of China blocked BRP del Pilar from apprehending the 8 fishing vessels loaded with giant clams, corals and different kinds of marine species, leading to the standoff that extends up to the present.
Three days later, the BRP del Pilar withdrew to Poro Point in La Union because, according to military sources, it would be embarrassing for the country if China will deploy its own gunboat at the shoal to confront a weaponless patrol boat of the Navy.
The Philippine government has no option against the military might of China but to engage the latter through diplomatic negotiations to reduce the tension and to bring the territorial row to the international tribunal in order to determine which country really owns the shoal. The shoal is about 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales and thus it is well within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations. Nevertheless, it becomes incumbent upon us to be able to defend and secure the sovereignty of our state and the integrity of our national territory against those who wish to dishonor it,” Gazmin said.
China is also aggressively claiming the whole Spratly Islands. Besides the Philippines and China, the other claimants are Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.