MANILA, Philippines?The United States has pledged to provide the Philippines with $18.4-million worth of precision-guided missiles this year to use in its fight against Islamist militants in the south, according to a military document seen by Reuters.
The missiles are being funded under a US Congress Act that allows the US Defense Department to train and equip foreign armies allied with Washington to fight terrorists across the world since 2006.
Troops in the southern Philippines have said they need unmanned drones to help hunt down Abu Sayyaf bandits and Jemaah Islamiyah militants on small remote islands.
National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia yesterday said he had yet to officially receive information on the reported assistance offer, ?but on principle, we welcome it.?
?Accuracy and precision are important in any military operations to avoid civilian collateral damage. We have to learn from what has happened in Afghanistan,? Garcia told the Inquirer.
A Philippine defense official disputed the report, saying that what the US government had promised was $4-million worth of ?enhanced precision capability? package involving software for aircraft of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The assistance will not involve precision-guided missiles, defense department spokesperson Eduardo Batac said.
War on terror
Reuters said the military document it had seen states: ?Fiscal year 2010 assistance for the Philippines provides a precision-guided missile capability to assist Philippine armed forces? counterterrorism efforts in southern regions to combat the activities of the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf Group.?
The document was shown to Reuters by a defense department official on condition of anonymity, the British news agency said.
Precision-guided missiles are unmanned explosives directed against a target. They can be controlled from a remote location or have their own internal guidance system. Guided missiles can be launched from aircraft, ships, submarines, land vehicles, or even individual soldiers on the ground.
A US Embassy spokesperson confirmed there were funds available to the Philippines under the program, but did not comment on what they would be used for, Reuters said.
The Philippines has no missile capability. Most of its ships and aircraft are Vietnam War vintage. It spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) for defense and security, but 70 percent of the budget goes to paying salaries and allowances of its 130,000-member army.
Need for precision
Speaking to reporters at Camp Aguinaldo, Batac said the latest US grant to the Philippines, a Washington ally in the fight against terrorism, would involve merely an ?enhancement? of the precision capabilities of the AFP.
?It is a project that will provide basically some software and other equipment which will allow the Air Force to perform enhanced precision capability,? Batac said.
Existing armaments of the AFP can be adjusted for the purpose, he said. ?You can use any munitions ... It?s a matter of modifying, converting and providing the guidance system,? he added.
Groundwork on the platform for the new software started early this year, but there is no word yet if installation of the software is already being carried out, Batac said.
The Philippine Air Force?s OV-10 Broncos?which support ground troops in fighting Muslim extremists?have been lined up for the upgrade.
The OV-10s are normally armed with four 7.62 mm machine guns and also carry 2.75-inch rocket pods, 5-inch Zuni rocket pods or a combination of both. The aircraft can also carry 750-pound bombs.
?There is a certain number [of this aircraft] that is going to be equipped because we are talking of a finite amount that has been committed, so definitely we can only use that fund for a specific number,? Batac explained.
A check with the PAF showed that it actually has 16 OV-10 aircraft. But only 10 are currently operational, PAF spokesperson Lt. Col. Miguel Okol said.
Under US control
In a phone interview, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. discounted the prospect of the US government arming the Philippine military with precision-guided missiles.
?If ever this equipment will be used in the Philippines, the US themselves will deploy them, like in Afghanistan and Iraq ... These (precision-guided missiles) are never given to any local armies,? Mabanta said.
He added that the AFP at present did not need such a sophisticated armament in fighting Muslim extremists in Mindanao but it would ?gladly accept? such a US grant if it would materialize.
?If it is in our hands, we will use it ... but what we need (now) is to just further improve on our intelligence collection,? Mabanta said.
Since 2006, the United States has allocated about $1.2 billion under the National Defense Authorization Act to help boost counterterrorism capability of about 35 allies across the world.
Including the funds for the missiles, the Philippines has received more than $73 million under the program. Indonesia and Malaysia have received smaller amounts to improve maritime border control.
Some islands in the southern Philippines have become training bases and a sanctuary for Southeast Asian Islamist militants. Intelligence reports say about 50 Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean militants have been hiding in mainland Mindanao and the nearby islands of Basilan and Jolo since early 2000.
Since 2000, Washington, through the State Department, has also provided about $500 million for military and development aid to help win over the Muslim minority in the mainly Roman Catholic country. Reports from Reuters, Jocelyn. R Uy, Christian V. Esguerra and Inquirer Research