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'All air, all sea command’ now military’s top priority for territorial defense

THE Puerto Princesa City-based Armed Forces Western Command (Wescom), which has the monicker “all air, all sea command,” is now the top priority of the military in terms of equipage of modern material for territorial defense, the command’s chief, Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, disclosed on Thursday.

“Because of [security concerns] in the West Philippine Sea we’re now the top priority in terms of modernization of military equipage and upgrade of facilities,” Sabban said.

The command’s area of jurisdiction is the whole West Philippine Sea, where the oil-rich disputed Spratly Islands and the Malampaya gas project are located.

At least nine islands and reefs called the Municipality of Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys are being claimed by the Philippines.

The other claimants are China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. China is the most aggressive claimant.

Another part of the West Philippine Sea that is being claimed by China is the Panatag Shoal, a fishing ground which is just 124 nautical miles from Masinloc, Zambales. The area is well within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

The Philippines and China have been in a standoff over the shoal since April 10.

On Thursday the Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Jessie Dellosa, visited Wescom to assess the status and readiness of the command for territorial defense.

“We showed him [Dellosa] all our military installations across Palawan. He emphasized that Wescom is now the main concern of the Armed Forces,” Sabban said.

He said the command would be provided with frigates, reconnaissance planes and radars for maritime security operations.

He added that the acquisition of modern equipment for the command “is in consonance with the national policy” of President Aquino in preparing the country to have a credible defense in order to “be able to protect our sovereignty and territory.”

“We have to modernize our equipment as we hasten our maritime domain awareness. We have to strive to modernize our military until we have credible defense equipment which can be compared to other claimant countries,” Sabban said.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and the defense acquisition team went to Italy to shop for naval assets.

Just the other day, Aquino said the government is planning to buy 24 jet fighters from European countries after dropping the idea of acquiring F-16s from the United States.

The US has supplied the Navy a Hamilton-class cutter and is set to turn over another one. The cutters cost the government P450 million each. The first delivered cutter last year that was stripped of its weapons systems and was renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar.

Defense and military officials hope that the second cutter would not be stripped of its weapons before it is turned over to the Philippines. It is expected to arrive in the country in December.

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Zaff Solmerin | BusinessMirror.Com.Ph | May 17, 2012 | Article Link

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