By: Jaime Sinapit, InterAksyon.com
 
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MANILA, Philippines – Credible territorial defense, but not to go to war with China. That’s the rationale behind the determination of President Benigno Aquino III in pushing 24 big-ticket projects before he steps down from power in 2016, the Department of National Defense (DND) said Wednesday.
 
The 24 projects are culled from 138 defense projects with a budget of P75 billion to modernize the Armed Forces.
 
The objective, said Fernando Manalo, defense undersecretary for Finance, Munitions, Installations and Materiel, is “for all the items to be delivered and for use by our Armed Forces a within the term of the President. This is not only a conscious effort but deliberate and very decisive efforts that we want to be accomplished the soonest possible. These 24 projects are already in various stages of implementation.”
 
The list is topped by the acquisition of 12 units of Korean-made FA50 “Golden Eagle” lead-in semi multirole fighter jets with a budget of P18.9 billion, and two frigates worth P18 billion.
 
Manalo said negotiations on the aircraft from the Korean Air Space (KAI) through the government of South Korea is nearly completed. Manila intends to purchase these under a government-to-government agreement.
 
“Once the budget is approved it will become so easy to enter formal negotiations. The budget aside, we are waiting confirmation from the Office of the President on the sales agreement that will be signed by our secretary [defense] secretary and our Office of the Defense and Armed Forces Attache. A sales agreement will lead to the signing of a government-to-government contract by representatives of the two governments,” Manalo explained.
 
Second is the acquisition of two frigates for the Navy and two Amphibious Support Vehicle (SSV) with a budget of P4 billion. “We look forward to the delivery of at least four [military vessels]. Concerning our frigates an acquisition decision memorandum was already issued which means the Navy has already submitted the needed document of specifications. So we can start now with the two-stage public bidding,” Manalo said.
 
The DND is looking for a consultant to help the procurement body when it comes to technical specifications for the vessels, he added. “The Navy needs to hire a consultant because the frigates that we want to buy are too sophisticated, that’s part of diligence. We can’t afford mistakes here because the costs to Juan dela Cruz are too high,” he said.
 
Brand-new, not second-hand Maestrale
 
In January 2012, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin together with the Defense Acquisition System (DAS) team met with Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola to sign a 5-year agreement that was followed by an inspection of the combat-ready defense materiel the government intends to procure such as the Maestrale, a frigate still being used by the Italian Navy.
 
But, Manalo said, the idea to buy second-hand frigates was dropped after a series of further consultations. “Actually, I was with the Secretary of National Defense when we went to Italy to check the Italian package, the Maestrale. Our talks then was that if your intention is purchase any available frigate that you can immediately use without consideration of the cost, the Maestrale will do. But when we evaluated it, [we learned that] although the ship was still being used by the Italian Navy the ship is due for retirement. I think it is more than 20 years old already and its maintenance cost will be too high,” he said.
 
As a result, he added, “the senior leaders after evaluating the options decided that instead of buying second hand we might as well acquire brand-new [frigates].”
 
Also on the list of 24 are rocket launchers for the Philippine Army; radar system support facilities, close-air support, combat utility helicopters, flight simulator, and long range patrol aircraft for the Philippine Air Force; and helicopters, multipurpose attack craft, and base support for the Philippine Navy.
 
AFP upgrade not directed at China
 
Manalo said modernizing the Armed Forces doesn’t signal an intent to prepare for war with China.“We are modernizing not because we want to go to war against China. Remember, 1995 a law was passed for the modernization of the Armed Forces and this expired on 2010. Within those years, issues related to the West Philippine Sea were not a big deal then. Modernization is being implemented because there is really a need to equip our Armed Forces not because we are planning to go to war against China. We really need this because of the fact that every nation wants to modernize its Armed Forces. Just look at our neighbors in the region-- they are investing billions of dollars for the acquisition of equipment,” he explained.
 
The Armed Forces, he said, deserves a chance to have modern equipment. “It may not be on a par with countries around us but at least it is something that we Filipinos can be proud of. As a former soldier, it is a source of pride for me and I’m sure all of us believe it will be a source of pride if we see our Armed Forces equipped with modern weapons.”
 
Manalo said part of the P75-billion modernization budget is for the upgrading of military runways, hangars and naval facilities. “These infrastructures are part of the budget,” he said.
 
Earlier, Defense Secretary Gazmin said the government can offer access to US and Japanese forces at the former US military base in Subic in Zambales; Clark base in Pampanga; and the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City.
 
Manalo said this also includes the improvement of the naval base at Rafael Ramos in Cebu. “As far as I know there is no definite decision yet about Subic--if this will be transferred to the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy,” he said.

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