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New aircraft deals not a reaction to China threat – Palace

MANILA, Philippines – A day after the defense department announced a new deal to buy more fighter jets as part of a military upgrade, Malacañang on Saturday, March 22, said the new acquisitions were not a response to China's increasing aggressiveness in disputed maritime waters.

Territorial conflict or no, the administration aims to establish minimum credible defense for the country, the Palace added.

On Friday, the Department of National Defense (DND) said the Philippines will buy about P24 billion ($524.7-million) worth of aircraft from South Korea and Canada to boost the country's security capabilities.

The Philippines has embarked on a P75-billion effort to upgrade its armed forces, particularly units patrolling disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The country earlier acquired two refurbished frigates from the United States Coast Guard.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told dzRB the new acquisitions are part of the military's modernization plan. She said President Benigno Aquino III is committed to "walk the talk" when he promised to upgrade the defense capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Valte refused to elaborate on recent reports concerning China's interest in the Recto Bank or Reed Bank.

Last week, former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said he is convinced China is "posturing" to seize the disputed Ayungin Shoal and the Recto Bank, an oil rich table mount just off Palawan. Both are located within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

Valte said: "Can I give an answer that is not related to our current issue with China? President [Aquino's] position has always been to strengthen our Armed Forces just for us to have minimum credible defense posture."

"He (Aquino) really walks the talk in the sense that he funds the modernization program of the AFP. So the Aquino administration allocates budget to modernize the Armed Forces," Valte added.

DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo said the contracts to be signed on March 28 will include the purchase of 12 FA-50 fighter jets from state-run Korea Aerospace Industries for P18.9 billion ($417.95 million).

Eight Bell 412 combat utility helicopters worth P4.8 billion will be contracted from Canadian Commercial Corp., with the first 3 helicopters expected to be delivered next year.

The new acquisitions come as the Philippines prepares to finalize an agreement with the United States that would allow increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines, amid rising tensions with China over maritime disputes.

Malacañang says the military-to-military deal sends a message that China can interpret on its own.

On March 17, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said, "Let China interpret that particular [deal]…. The medium is the message."

But he admitted the presence of more US troops in the Philippines "certainly would help" in the ongoing territorial conflict.

China had demanded that the Philippines remove its ship in the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), which serves as a detachment for Philippine marines. On March 9, Chinese coastguards blocked two Filipino vessels from approaching the shoal, triggering protests from Manila.

The incident comes after the Philippines also accused China of firing water cannons last January at Filipino fishermen off another disputed territory, Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal). with reports from Katerina Francisco/