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AFP building ‘modest deterrent capability’ in West Philippine Sea

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines is speeding up the deployment of surveillance equipment which it hopes would, in tandem with newly acquired ships and helicopters, help it build a  “modest deterrent capability” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), parts of which are claimed by China and other countries.

Lieutenant General Jessie Dellosa, making his first official visit to Palawan on Wednesday since he was appointed Armed Forces chief of staff four months ago, held a closed-door meeting with Western Command chief Juancho Sabban and his key officers to discuss the situation in the disputed region in light of the ongoing tension between China and the Philippines in the Scarborough Shoal.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Dellosa played down his Palawan visit as “just a regular visit to see the situation here and assess the condition of our troops.”

He acknowledged, however, that the upgrading of the military capability of Wescom was among the priorities of the AFP.

“That’s one of the issues that we are talking about. We would like to establish a modest deterrent capability, modest but credible deterrent support,” Dellosa said.

Dellosa pointed out that the Philippine government will “formally receive” its second Hamilton-class naval vessel from the United States on May 22. The first such vessel, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, figured in the early part of the Scarborough standoff with Chinese fisheries vessels when its crew tried to arrest a group of Chinese fishers caught poaching internationally protected marine turtles inside the disputed shoal off the mainland province of Zambales in early April.

In addition, Dellosa said, the military was planning to deploy new radar facilities in the Palawan area to enhance its surveillance capability in the West Philippine Sea. The radar equipment, Dellosa added, would supplement an ongoing program to scale up its surveillance systems.

“Actually we have plans for the Navy, which includes the coast watch systems that we have enhanced and procurement of radars to be installed mainly in Palawan,” Dellosa said.

The Philippine government is also in the process of acquiring a total of eight new attack helicopters, mostly W-3A Sokol combat-utility helicopters, to beef up its firepower.

Dellosa stressed, however, that the current military buildup was still secondary to the government’s main strategy in the West Philippine Sea of dealing with territorial disputes through diplomatic channels.

“As much as a possible, we would like to resolve things through diplomatic means,” he said.

Asked how the Philippine armed forces would respond to an incident similar to the Scarborough standoff in the waters around Palawan, Dellosa said that “based on the briefing that I have received [from Wescom], we are fully ready and prepared for any eventuality.”

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