Philippines President Benigno Aquino III has announced plans to augment his country's defense capabilities.
Speaking on Tuesday at a ceremony marking the docking at the Manila port of the country's first Hamilton-class warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, Aquino said his government planned to make a large scale purchase of equipment for the armed forces.
He said proper management of public funds enabled the government to "offer more modern weapons, faster patrol craft and more effective equipment to our soldiers and police officers."
“This ship symbolizes our newly acquired ability to guard, protect, and if necessary, fight for the interests of our country,” Aquino said as the refurbished Hamilton-class cutter Gregorio del Pilar dropped anchor.
“This is just the beginning. Expect more good news because we will not stop at one ship.”
“This will upgrade our capability to guard our exclusive economic zone as well as the (oil and gas) service contract areas,” he said in a welcoming speech.
Many of those areas are claimed by China, which insists it has sovereign rights to almost all of the West Philippine Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.
Other parts of the sea, which is reputedly rich in mineral resources and straddles vital sea lanes, are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The competing claims have for decades made the sea one of Asia’s most dangerous potential military flashpoints, and tensions flared this year after the Philippines and Vietnam accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive.
The Philippines said the Chinese navy had fired warning shots at Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, harassed an oil exploration vessel and put up markers on Philippine islets.
Aquino said the former US Coast Guard cutter, now the Philippine Navy’s flagship vessel, would protect the country’s exclusive economic zone and its oil and gas exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
New Defense Weapon list and Budget.
Modern equipment such as
· Surface attack craft,
· Air defense radars
· New assault rifles
· Night-fighting equipment,
· Sea-lift and amphibious vessels
Above enumerated equipments will be added to the Philippine defense forces' weaponry.
And the Philippine military’s budget of about $2.5 billion this year is just a fraction of China’s published defense spending about $90 billion.
Manila clinched the deal to acquire the Gregorio del Pilar—named after a Philippine revolutionary hero who fought the Spanish and died in combat against American forces—early this year, before the tensions with China flared.
The United States has since promised to help upgrade the Philippine military further, but no details have been released.
China’s state-run media this month warned the Philippines it could pay a “high price” for building up its military presence in the West Philippine Sea.
Philippine Navy bought the del Pilar from its ally, the United States, in May for $10.7 million.
Aquino described the decommissioned ship of the U.S. Coast Guard as "a symbol of our readiness to protect, guard and if needed, defend the interest and welfare of the nation."
The vessel would be assigned to western Philippines to boost maritime patrols to guard the exclusive economic zone, he said.
"It would also help fight illegal drug trafficking, boosts search and rescue operations, protect our marine resources and stop criminals from entering our archipelago," he added.
U.S. missile destroyers joined much older Philippine warships for extensive annual military drills off the coast of south-west Philippines two months ago.
It came immediately after the allies expressed growing concern over Beijing's highhandedness in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
During Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario's visit to Washington in June, his American counterpart Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was committed to the defense of the Philippines if China attacks Filipino forces in the Spratly Islands.
Rosario said Manila was concerned about the "aggressive intrusions" being made by Chinese vessels on the West Philippine Sea, as the Filipinos call the South China Sea.
Claims of sovereignty and jurisdiction over the South China Sea heightened tensions among other maritime nations in the region recently.
As the row escalated, the Philippines appealed to longtime ally the United States for help in beefing up its poorly equipped military, with Aquino saying his country could not contain China on its own.
The Philippine Navy has an old and badly equipped fleet of fewer than 80 ships to protect its coastline and vast marine interests.
The navy’s chief hailed the 115-meter (378-foot) Gregorio del Pilar, which replaces a World War II-era destroyer as the country’s flagship vessel, as a timely boost to the Philippines’ military power.
“She now symbolizes the revival of the Philippine Navy,” Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said at Tuesday’s welcoming ceremony.
“The Gregorio del Pilar’s ability to operate in adverse conditions… will be vital in securing our maritime nation’s territory and asserting our sovereignty in areas where our capability is now seriously needed.”
But even the “new” ship—acquired under a mutual defense treaty that gives the Philippines access to decommissioned US defense equipment—first went into operation in the United States more than 45 years ago.