MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Air Force (PAF) expects to get P14 billion or over a third of the P40-billion special funding promised by President Aquino in the next five years to boost its capability to protect the country’s skies and its claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Beginning next year, the PAF will receive air defense radars and aircraft capable of long-range patrol so it could finally monitor, if not yet intercept, incursions in Philippine airspace and territorial waters, Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena said in an interview on Friday.
“It will improve our capability very much because it will give us a greater domain awareness in what is happening in our territorial waters and in our territorial airspace,” said Rabena, the PAF commanding general.
From being the best in the Southeast Asia region after World War II until the 1960s, the PAF saw its fleet steadily depleted with hardly new air assets bought despite the 15-year modernization program for the Armed Forces of the Philippines that ended in 2010.
The decommissioning of its last fighter jet in 2005 left the PAF incapable of intercepting any foreign aircraft illegally entering the country’s airspace.
Amid renewed incursions by China into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang announced that it would allocate P8 billion a year for the next five years for a total of P40 billion to boost the military’s capability to protect the country’s maritime resources and territorial integrity.
This is apart from the P11-billion special outlay that the President had allocated for the military this year from the government’s share in revenues of the Malampaya natural gas project in Palawan (P8 billion) and the regular modernization outlay (P3 billion).
The P8-billion special allocation starting next year is higher than the P5-billion annual special outlay for the AFP’s modernization since 2006.
Interviewed at the Air Power Symposium on Friday, Rabena said the PAF would acquire a long-range patrol aircraft and two search-and-rescue helicopters from its share in the P11-billion outlay.
The PAF, which would mark its 64th anniversary on July 1, already put in place a program of acquisition in the next five years that would take up P14 billion of the P40 billion outlay, Rabena said.
This includes air defense surveillance radars, surface attack aircraft, close air support aircraft, combat utility helicopters and long-range patrol aircraft, he said.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. also said at the symposium that the Aquino administration was committed to reforming the Armed Forces and bringing in adequate operational support for the troops.
“We all want the best for our country and want to help our people weather whatever storms that come their way. Today we have a Commander in Chief who is committed to providing you the support you need to allow you to perform your duties to the best of your abilities,” Ochoa said.
The reforms have been outlined in Mr. Aquino’s 16-point agenda, he said. These included a legislation extending the AFP modernization to 2025; a proposal authorizing the defense department to forge contracts of sale, lease and joint venture of real property; and appropriation of P4.2 billion to build 20,000 houses for low-salaried soldiers and policemen, among others.
(With a report from TJ Burgonio)