President Benigno Aquino listens as Vice President Jejomar Binay speaks to him during ceremonies marking the Philippine Navy’s 115th anniversary celebrations in Fort San Felipe, Cavite city, southwest of Manila yesterday.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino yesterday announced a $1.8bn military upgrade to help defend his country’s maritime territory against “bullies”, amid an ever-worsening dispute with China.
The announcement came on the same day that the Philippines filed a protest with China over the “illegal and provocative” presence of a Chinese warship and two other vessels at a Filipino-claimed shoal in the disputed South China Sea.
In thinly veiled comments referring to China, Aquino vowed during a speech to mark the navy’s 115th anniversary that the armed forces would be given the resources necessary to protect Philippine sovereignty. “We have a clear message to the world: The Philippines is for Filipinos, and we have the capability to resist bullies entering our backyard,” Aquino told naval chiefs. Aquino detailed a 75bn-peso ($1.82bn) military modernisation programme that gives priority to upgrading the navy, which is one of the weakest in Southeast Asia.
He said by 2017 the Philippines would acquire two new frigates, two helicopters capable of anti-submarine warfare, three fast vessels for coastal patrols and eight amphibious assault vehicles. “We will also improve our communications, intelligence and surveillance systems,” he said.
The Philippines has been locked for more than two years in an increasingly hostile dispute with China over rival claims to the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop vast resources of oil and gas.
China insists it has sovereign rights to most of the sea, even waters close to the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.
Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.
China has in recent years taken what the Philippines and Vietnam say are increasingly aggressive actions to assert its claims.
China announced in March its defence budget for 2013 would be about $115bn.
The Philippines is also facing intense diplomatic pressure from Taiwan after the Filipino coastguard shot dead a Taiwanese fishermen this month in waters near the South China Sea. The Philippines insists the Taiwanese fishing vessel was illegally in Filipino waters. However Taiwan denies this and has suspended important trade ties in a bid to punish the Philippines.