Monday, June 13, 2011

P5-B budget increase needed for better maritime patrol

By Johanna Paola D. Poblete, Monday, June 13, 2011

THE CHIEF of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization program said that a budget increase next year is needed to beef up maritime patrol in the western Philippine Sea, even as the Palace announced that it is determined to improve defense capabilities while pursuing a peaceful multilateral approach on the ongoing Spratly Group of Islands tiff.

Brigadier General Roy O. Deveraturda, chief of the AFP Modernization Program Management Office, said that they would like to propose to Congress an increase in the annual budget of P5 billion, which will greatly enhance the modernization process.

"We are proposing more than P5 billion because that is not enough... it would be good if we could get something like the Malampaya funds of P8 billion that was given this year," said Mr. Deveraturda in a phone interview on Monday.

"The Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy [have been patrolling] the area... since the 1980s, but we’re talking 24-hour surveillance -- that’s the goal. To protect the integrity of national sovereignty, to record and protect if there are any violations, we need to enhance our capabilities," said Mr. Deveraturda.

Republic Act 7898 or The AFP Modernization Program had originally allotted P331 billion budget, with P164 billion from congressional appropriation and the remaining P167 billion from sources such as the sale or lease of military camps under the Bases Conversion Act.

The budget allotment included acquisitions of air force, navy and army equipment, which was supposed to have been disbursed in amounts of P50 million or P10 million from 1995 to 2000. However, the AFP modernization trust fund got its first P5.2 billion from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) in 2002.

Congress had allotted P5 billion yearly, from 2005 until the law’s expiration in 2010. Mr. Deveraturda confirmed that the P5 billion was received in 2006-2011.

Last April, President Benigno S. C. Aquino III committed P11 billion -- P8 billion of which was taken from the Malampaya Project funds, and P3 billion from the AFP modernization budget itself -- to the acquisition of equipment for 2011. "The P11 billion has been earmarked for different projects that have been identified. We have started the procurement process, and we will have our first [naval vessel] Hamilton Class Cutter in August," said Mr. Deveraturda.

He added that there are additional projects allocated for 2011 in various stages of implementation with deliverables including patrol boats, patrol helicopters with sensors, search and rescue helicopters for the use of the Navy and the Air Force in maritime patrol, particularly in the West Sulu Sea and the west Philippine Sea.

"The question about China, are they going to be very aggressive, are they going to invite direct confrontation? I don’t think so.

"To deter or defeat China, this is not our purpose. We have no intention of going into war. And while the threat of imminent danger will always be there... we want to reinforce our sovereign patrols, which right now are too small or too slow," said Mr. Deveraturda.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Monday assured that the government is serious about improving its defense capabilities, even while stressing that the thrust has always been peaceful resolution in the Spratly Islands.

"The administration is determined to improve the capabilities of our military and Coast Guard to enable the effective patrol and protection of our national territory and exclusive economic zone," Mr. Lacierda said at a Palace briefing.

Sought for comment, Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad said that an increase in the budget of the Defense department is not in the offing. "We will have substantial increase in the spending for external defense capability," he said in a text message.

"In our meeting with the Defense Minister of China [Liang Guanglie], we also mentioned that these acquisitions of vessels and equipment are not only for protection of our coastline but also our environmental protection," Mr. Lacierda said.

"We would like to emphasize right now that we’re very, very confident and hopeful that a peaceful resolution will be achieved on this matter," said Mr. Lacierda.

Business World Online

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