Marcos cites Air Force troops’ role as ‘custodians of our skies’
MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday reiterated his commitment to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as he underscored the important role of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) as “custodians of our skies,” securing the country’s territory from foreign entities.
“The winds of change signal geopolitical challenges around our region and other parts of the world that as yet affect us,” the president said at the PAF’s 76th anniversary program held at Clark Freeport in Pampanga province.
He also cited the PAF’s principles of “integrity, excellence, and patriotism” in pursuit of its mandate as part of the AFP.
“[Y]ou must always uphold these values as the custodians of our skies, entrusted with the task of upholding our national interests, protecting our people, and defending our territory,” Marcos said.
The president also praised the airmen for assisting civilian agencies during calamities.
“Your service also goes far beyond conflict, extending into the depths of calamity and humanitarian crises, where you have selflessly extended a helping hand to those in need,” he said.
Marcos was accompanied by Speaker Martin Romualdez, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., and senior military officials.
Maritime air patrols
The president also led the inspection of a housing project in the City of San Fernando, the provincial capital.
Without making any reference to the West Philippine Sea, Marcos called the PAF’s maritime air patrols “essential in upholding our territorial integrity and safeguarding Philippine maritime zones.”
The commander in chief also commended the PAF for supporting the Philippine Army and other state security forces “in upholding internal security, making our communities safe from various threats.”
“I reiterate that this administration is committed to strengthening the Armed Forces, including [the PAF], through the acquisitions under the AFP modernization program,” the president said.
Meanwhile, the Philippines and the United States are holding the second iteration of Cope Thunder, a large-scale joint air exercise that began on July 2 and ends on July 21.
The United States will deploy its F-22 “Raptors” stealth fighter jets to the bilateral drills. The Pacific Air Forces (Pacaf), a major command of the US Air Force, said the exercises will take place at Clark in Pampanga, Mactan Air Base in Cebu, and other airfields across the Philippines.
The fifth-generation F-22s are among the world’s most advanced and lethal aircraft. It was first deployed to the Philippines in March as part of an expert exchange.
Other aircraft to be used in the joint exercise are C-130 Hercules transport planes and A-10 Warthog attack aircraft. Some 225 US airmen are expected to take part in the drills.
The PAF said in May that the drills in July would include cargo aircraft to simulate the movement of a large fleet and “to test air mobility and combat readiness in a realistic operational environment.”
The first iteration of the exercises involved Philippine and US jets simulating engagements with an enemy force over the West Philippine Sea.
Cope Thunder used to be a large-scale, US-led multinational exercise that started in the Philippines in 1976, but was discontinued when the Americans closed their bases in the country in 1992.
After three decades, the drills were revived in the country in May, amid concerns between the two allies over an increasingly aggressive China.
The exercises are bilateral for now but are expected to expand in the coming years.
“The US and Philippine service members will exercise together to exchange tactics, techniques, and procedures within the Indo-Pacific,” Pacaf said.
Cope Thunder’s return “provides a unique opportunity to integrate forces and improve interoperability” between the United States and the Philippines, it added.