COVID-19 pushes back PH Navy upgrade
MANILA, Philippines—The pandemic has pushed back plans to seal deals for several Philippine Navy projects, including a P70-billion submarine contract, which are deemed key at a time when Philippine territorial waters are under assault by China.
The new vessels would have given a boost to the Navy’s capability to secure the country’s maritime domain, especially in the West Philippine Sea, which China claims to own despite the area being inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and where China ships continued to linger.
“If not for this COVID-19 per my timeline as the chief of the Navy, I was expecting that the signing of the contract would have been done this second semester of 2021 or at the latest first semester of 2022,” outgoing Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo told reporters.
“Those would have been the timelines for this submarine acquisition project,” he said in Filipino. “But because of this government’s COVID-19 response, so much of our funds have been devoted to it,” Bacordo said, hours before he was set to retire on Tuesday (June 8).
Submarines would provide credible deterrence against foreign intrusions, especially by China which ignored a series of diplomatic protests by the Philippines, rendering those inutile.
Countries like France, South Korea, Turkey and India have shown interest to supply the Philippine Navy with submarines, while Singapore also indirectly offered its used ones.
“They have newer submarines and they want to sell their older submarines but there is no formal offer yet, only through some intermediaries,” Bacordo said, but adding that the Navy and President Rodrigo Duterte wanted new ones.
The government was forced to realign funds from several agencies for its COVID-19 response. These included the defense department’s meager budget for military upgrade, which meant some key projects had to be pushed back.
Bacordo said COVID-19, which originated from China, dealt the “biggest blow” to the Philippine military’s modernization efforts.
For instance, it pushed back the delivery of South Korean-built frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) for a few months and also delayed the expected delivery of the first batch of fast attack interdiction craft under a contract that was signed only recently.
“The first of the nine should have arrived by the fourth quarter of 2020, now the first will be arriving in the first quarter of 2022,” Bacordo said of the fast attack craft deal with Israel Shipyards.
Other prospective deals did not take place because of the pandemic, which is being linked by some US intelligence reports to a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
Bacordo said the first six of the offshore patrol vessels would have been delivered by 2021, while the first of two corvettes would have been delivered by 2022. But none of it was going to happen yet.
“If not for the pandemic, believe me, our government is very capable of it,” said Bacordo. “The submarines, the offshore patrol vessels, the corvettes, the shore-based anti-ship missile system, shore-based air defense missile system, the landing docks,” he said.
“We can handle all of it,” he added.
“Today, we have to prioritize now, what is our immediate concerns, immediate concerns like the West Philippine Sea, Benham Rise, southern Philippines,” Bacordo said. “So that’s why we have to prioritize,” he said.
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