Aquino praises PAF, vows sustained modernization
MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III was not short of praises for the Air Force on Monday, July 1, during the celebration of their 66th anniversary.
Aquino, who is known to lambast government agencies for their poor performance, celebrated the achievements of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), including their efficient use of their budget.
"It is a joy to see you have not swayed from our mission to make good governance permanent. Because of the good and cost-efficient administration of your budget according to the Department of Budget and Management, the financial obligation efficiency of the Air Force hit 99.6%," he said in his speech.
Among their achievements due to the efficient use of budget is being able to make the C-130 transport aircraft as well as other aircrafts, trucks, and a utility and attack helicopter work for the first time.
He also celebrated the Air Force's help in peacekeeping efforts in Mindanao, as well as the speed of their response during typhoons and rescue operations. Aquino counted over 28,300 sorties, 1,500 ground operations, and almost 4,700 civil military operations undergone by the Air Force in his 3 years in power.
Aquino said the improvement within the Air Force has been stark since his term. He commended Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as well as the leadership of Lieutenant General Lauro Catalino dela Cruz for their service to Filipinos.
"Why is it that in the past decade, our Air Force suffered from a broken wings, and we merely relied on old and rickety planes and equipment? It's sad to think we reached a situation like this, because while past leaders were drunk with power, they neglected the interests and welfare of our Filipino fighters," he said.
He added, "In just 3 years, the Philippine Air Force proved they are on their way to increased strength and a stable tomorrow."
In accordance to Aquino's promise to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Aquino also vowed to continue to modernize the PAF. He mentioned the crash of an Air Force OV-10 aircraft over a week ago in Palawan during a special training flight, which carried two soldiers.
Aquino gave assurances that search and retrieval operations continue to find the missing pilots, and vowed to prevent such accidents from occurring again, hence the modernization of PAF's aircrafts.
He expressed faith in improved services delivered by the Air Force, citing the P75 billion allotted to improve the armed forces in the next 5 years under the New AFP Modernization Act.
This is on top the more than P19 billion that had spent over the past 3 years for this purpose.
Between 1992 and 2010, the Philippines had spent only P33 billion pesos for military modernization, Aquino said.
Aquino said he is committed to reversing the under-spending on military capability that he said had characteried the Philippines since the early 1990s.
"Before I step down from the office, you can be assured the Air Force will have modern vehicles and aircrafts such as lead-in fighters, long-range patrol aircraft, close air support aircraft, light-lift fixed-wing aircraft, medium-lift aircraft, attack helicopters, combat utility helicopters, air defense radars, at flight simulators," he said.
"I promise: in the efforts of the government to modernize your needs, and the renewed confidence of the people in our Air Force, the service it will be able to provide will truly be sky-high)," he said.
The Philippines, a former US colony, retired the last of its US-designed F-5 fighters in 2005 and lacks air defense.
Aquino reiterated his administration's plans to modernize the military as tensions rise with China over overlapping territorial claims to islands and waters in the South China Sea.
The main focus was initially the Navy, with the acquisition of two Hamilton-class cutters decommissioned by the US Coast Guard.
The first of the two refurbished vessels became the Philippine Navy's flagship in 2011, replacing a warship initially built for the US Navy in World War II.
The second cutter is set to arrive in the Philippines later this year. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com