Aquino vows air force modernization to defend PH territories

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III vowed to continue modernizing the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in his remaining two years in office to allow it to defend the country's territories effectively.

On Tuesday, July 1, at the 67th anniversary of PAF, Aquino said he would continue to add aircrafts to the force's fleet, to return it to the prestige it enjoyed during World War II before corruption halted its progress.

"When our own FA-50 lands in our own backyard, we will again be able to defend our territories in an effective way," he said.

"It is clear, that in the straight and narrow path, our goal is to correct the wrong practices in the past in order for us to again reach the level of success of our former Air Force. This is what has pushed us to push for comprehensive reform in our armed forces," Aquino said.

Before Aquino came into office, he said, the Philippines only had one C-130. Today, it has 3 which "are ready to serve in whatever situation or challenge." Aside from these, Aquino cited its other improvements:

Aquino said the government also plans to buy 8 more combat utility helicopters, two long-range patrol aircraft, and 6 close-air support aircraft with a radar system.

In 2015, the government also hopes to receive two of 12 FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers from South Korea. The targeted delivery for all 12 is 2017.

"Since our last F-5 freedom fighter aircraft retired in 2005, we have not had a fighter jet ready to guard our country," he said. "In the 4 years that have passed, we have taken advantage of all opportunities to again modernize your branch."

The Philippine military, a laggard in the region in terms of equipment, has been hard-pressed to modernize, but delays have hampered the modernization program. (READ: Controversies, delays in multi-billion AFP modernization)

Corruption and mismanagement in the last few decades have also stunted the military's organizational growth.

After Aquino was elected in 2010, whistleblowers exposed systemic corruption in the armed forces, prompting simultaneous investigations that led to a revamp of the finance units in the military.

A key finding then was that military processes were not subjected to public and civilian agencies' scrutiny, thus the abuse. The military vowed to be more transparent.

The modernization also comes as the Philippines is in the midst of a territorial dispute with China over areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Praise for work

Aquino also took the opportunity to thank the Armed Forces for its role in the Zamboanga crisis in late 2013, which saw days of fighting between the government and Muslim rebels.

"During the Zamboanga crisis, our 3 C-130s needed to transport personnel, equipment, and supply from various parts of the country towards Zamboanga City. Of course, amid the chaos, your operational tempo only increased and not once did I hear our C-130s were under repair or unavailable," he said.

"After all, every night, our talented servicemen carefully scrutinized our airplanes. They were guided by leaders who never complained either and instead always showed readiness to respond quickly to challenges," he added.

Aquino also thanked the military leadership for their support, specifically Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and commanding general of the Philippine Air Force Lieutenant General Jeff Delgado. Rappler.com