Philippines eyes second-hand jets, gunboats from other countries

PAYA LEBAR AIR BASE, Singapore -- An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 36th Fighter Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, lands here after a...

PAYA LEBAR AIR BASE, Singapore -- An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 36th Fighter Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, lands here after a mission during Commando Sling 04-3. U.S. and Singaporean Airmen trained together using realistic dissimilar aircraft air-to-air combat tactics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

The Department of National Defense (DND) is eyeing second-hand fighter jets and missile-firing gunboats from at least four friendly states apart from the United States in line with the country’s ongoing effort to build a credible territorial defense.

According to Peter Paul Galvez, DND spokesman, there are now ongoing acquisition efforts for these air and sea fighting equipment from France, Italy, the United Kingdom and South Korea.

“We now have this defense cooperative arrangements with these countries and through this scheme we will able to acquire fighter jets and gunboats at a lower price from them,” Galvez said yesterday.

Among the factors being considered by the department in its defense procurement program are the capability, longevity and cost of maintenance of these air and naval assets.

Now locked in a standoff with China over Panatag Shoal in Zambales, the country was earlier reported to be eyeing the procurement of a squadron of second-hand F-16 fighter planes and gunboats from the US Coast Guard.

“It’s not necessarily F-16s. We are also looking at jet fighters with the same capability as that of the F-16s but are cost-efficient and low in maintenance,” he said.

He added the acquisition program would also cover the Navy, which is awaiting transfer of the Hamilton-class cutter USS Dallas later this year.

The defense acquisition program is among 132 projects the department is eyeing to complete before the end of July.

“With the full backing of the President and with the assistance coming from friendly states, we will be able to achieve... a credible territorial defense,” Galvez said.

The US-based Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has said that the Philippines needs up to four squadrons (48) of upgraded Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets, well-armed frigates and corvette-size, fast to surface combatant vessels and minesweepers and four to six mini submarines, possibly obtained from Russia, to build a credible defense force in the face of China’s increasing belligerence in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In an article “Defending the Philippines: Military modernization and the challenges ahead” written by Richard Fisher, CNAS pointed out that this level of capability would far exceed current Philippine planning and finances and it would be in Washington’s interest to make it easier for Manila to acquire US fighters, frigates and other weapons system and encourage other countries such as Japan and South Korea to help modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The Philippine Air Force is presently relying on a single trainer jet converted into a fighter aircraft as well as several units of Vietnam-vintage OV-10 Bronco bombers, UH-IH and M520 attack helicopters as well as four newly delivered Sokol helicopters from Poland to guard the country’s skies.

The Navy, aside from several Peacock-class warships and a couple of World War II-vintage ships, simply relies on its newly acquired Hamilton-class cutter from the US, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, to secure maritime domain.

The country, through the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and absent a credible territorial defense, could only watch China lording it over Panatag Shoal, a rich Filipino fishing ground 124 nautical miles from Zambales province.

Fight our own battles

Meanwhile, a congressman said yesterday that the Philippines should deal with China on its own in resolving the dispute over Panatag Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

“We cannot rely on the United States or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for help. How then can we expect these nations to help us out when they have to protect their relations with and business interests in China? It’s quite pathetic for us to even seek their help,” Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano said.

“We should stop our practice of begging for help and hiding behind stronger economies when things get rough for our country. We cannot and should not always run to others for help. It’s time we fight our battle on our own,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin recently discussed with their US counterparts the country’s standoff with China over Panatag Shoal.

American officials, however, said they could not take sides in the dispute. But they promised help in the strengthening of the Philippine military.

Albano supported the position of President Aquino that the territorial conflict with China must be resolved peacefully and through diplomatic means.

“We must exhaust all peaceful and diplomatic means not because China is stronger than the Philippines in all aspects. Small country as we are, we have the obligation and the right to fight for the territory which has been ours long before China made its claim,” he said.

He said the plan to bring the issue before international forums like the United Nations is the right tack.

“We can win this battle over (Panatag) Shoal even without help from other countries because the territory is ours. We should make China accept that fact through peaceful and diplomatic means,” he added. 

Anti-China ‘hysteria’ hit

For the National Democratic Front, the US military activities in the Philippines are as much a form of foreign intervention as the Chinese incursion in Panatag Shoal.

“Alongside our condemnation of China’s incursion into (Panatag) Shoal, we must defy continued US troop presence and forward military deployment because these not only impinge on our sovereign right but, worse, drag the nation to the brink of an unjust war as well,” Jorge Madlos, spokesman for the NDF-Mindanao, said.

“We recognize, however, that it has been imbued upon the collective consciousness of the Chinese people that the West Philippine Sea is part of China, as much as Filipinos strongly believe that it is part of the Philippines. Thus, what is at stake here is the very integrity of both peoples,” he said.

“The answer to this inter-territorial dispute, therefore, is not war, but rather a diplomatic political solution between two countries in a third-party international tribunal,” Madlos said.

“It is for this reason that we condemn the military solution foisted by the US-Aquino regime, the pro-imperialist Akbayan special agents, and other rabid war mongers within the reactionary state. These war mongers shamelessly spread an anti-China hysteria that is engineered to drum up a military solution by upgrading the military capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and worse, insist on US military intervention,” he added.

He said prominent Chinese businessmen like Henry Sy and Lucio Tan have connived with the US to exploit the environment and the Filipino workers.

“The (Panatag) Shoal standoff is but symptomatic of their corporate greed, just a scratch to their decades-long plunder and exploitation. Adding to the tension in the standoff in (Panatag) Shoal, the recently concluded Balikatan exercises (US-RP joint military exercises), which was participated in by 4,500 US troops, and military contingents from seven other countries, sent a serious message to China that US imperialist power, in collusion with the Philippine reactionary government, is capable of engaging against those that threaten US hegemony in Southeast Asia,” Madlos said.

Madlos said the US “hands-off” policy expressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is part of her country’s “containment and engagement” approach to dealing with China.

“Historically, US military forces have never been known to defend the sovereign right of the Filipino people, but only to protect US imperialist interests in Asia and the Pacific. In fact, US imperialism owes the Filipino people blood debts for over a century of oppression and exploitation, and its continued intervention has dragged the country into bloody wars,” he said.

“Thus, while we denounce Chinese incursion into our territory, the Filipino people must equally if not more strongly condemn US imperialist intervention as shown in its direct troop presence in Mindanao and in other parts of our country, which imperils the Philippines by bringing it on the verge of a war against China,” he pointed out.

“We must not be dragged into war on account of the West Philippine Sea dispute and become a helpless war theater for two of the biggest and most aggressive competing world powers, only to be used as a platform for their hegemonic conquest,” he said.

“If we recall, during World War II, the then emergent imperialist Japan attacked the Philippines because the US’s largest armament in Asia is stationed in the country, and, in turn, the Philippines also became a launch pad of Japan in occupying Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, and Thailand. We cannot allow the horrors of this history to repeat itself,” he added.
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