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RP reviewing priorities in upgrading military capabilities–Defense chief

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan – (UPDATE) Top military and defense officials sat down with local military commanders on Monday to discuss priorities in addressing possible incursions in Philippine-claimed territories in the Spratlys.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, along with the Armed Forces chief, General Eduardo Oban Jr., conferred with the leadership of the Western Command (Wescom) guarding the country’s territorial claims in the Spratlys to determine priorities in upgrading military capabilities.”

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“We are trying to upgrade our resources to be able to protect our maritime area. It’s not easy because we lack funding and we have to prioritize,” Gazmin said following a close-door meeting with the Wescom chief, Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban.

Gazmin and Oban visited the military’s outpost in Palawan Monday morning to be personally briefed about recent incidents of intrusions in the Philippine-claimed territory in the South China Sea.

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“The purpose of his visit is to get a first-hand update on the current security situation in the Wescom’s area of responsibility in the face of the reported intrusions as reported by media,” Defense Undersecretary Eduardo Batac said when interviewed afterwards.

The visit was prompted by the the Philippine Air Force’s report that two fighter jets were spotted over the vicinity of the Philippine-claimed Reed Bank in the South China Sea last May 11.

The PAF said it could not identify the intruding planes. Quoting some local media reports, Chinese Defense Minster Liang Guanglie who was here last week for an official visit nevertheless told Gazmin that they did not have MIG-29 in their fleet of fighter planes.

Gazmin said they made the visit to understand what needed to be prioritized — land, air or water.

“We are assessing that to be able to come up with concrete actions,” he said.

He defended the Philippines’ posturing over China’s recent aggressive actions in the area, including the harassment of a government energy survey vessel in the Reed Bank, a territory outside the disputed Spratlys area and closer to the Palawan mainland than the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys being claimed by the Philippines.

“In the first place, in terms of military resources, wala tayong ibubuga (we cannot compete). Our preference is to dialogue based on the objective that we avoid active confrontation. Besides, all of our actions (diplomatic protests) are recorded and recognized internationally. In due time, I am sure the international community will take cognizance of these issues,” he explained.

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Gazmin said contrary to criticisms that the government had no clear strategy on the Spratlys, Malacañang has been pursuing dialogue as a means of thwarting the aggressive moves of China.

He said the Philippines has also been pushing for the stronger involvement of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in resolving the South China seas conflicts.

“We want to speak with one voice as ASEAN,” Gazmin said.

He was reacting to criticisms raised last week by Palawan Representative Antonio Alvarez decrying the government’s “ad hoc” approach to the Spratlys.

“There should be a comprehensive solution, a road map to pursue,” said Rep. Antonio Alvarez, who serves as congressman for the Palawan district where the contested KIG is located.

The Spratlys, a reputedly oil-rich chain of islands and reefs, is claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Jiang Shusheng, vice chair of the 11th National People’s Congress of China, who paid a courtesy call to Vice President Jejomar Binay on Friday, said the territorial dispute would not adversely affect relations between the two countries.

Batac said Gazmin lauded the troops for being vigilant while he reminded them to preserve the peace and stability in the disputed Spratlys territory which is seen as a potential flashpoint in the region.

“His instructions were for all our forces to be vigilant, to continue with the air and sea patrols in the area and to see to it that there should be continuous dialogues. Because at this time we don’t really have any capability for any action against any intruders so we have to see to it that we keep all lines of communication open so that we avoid any possible disruption of the peace and stability in that area,” Batac said.

Originally posted at 4:18 pm | Monday, May 30th, 2011

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