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Military modernization ‘nothing to do with Panatag standoff’

THE aggressive modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has nothing to do with the tension over the Panatag Shoal off West Philippine Sea, Malacanang said on Saturday.

In an interview over radio dzRb, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that even before the face-off between the Philippines and Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal, the Aquino administration has been giving priority in the modernization of the country's military.

"It has nothing to do with any incident or with any particular claim that we have. It’s something that we really must do in order to assure that we have a minimum credible defense," she said.

She noted that even during President Benigno Aquino III's State of the Nation Address (Sona) and in his other speeches, he was consistent in stressing the need for the AFP to modernize its equipment in order to guard the entire archipelago and the country's long coastlines.

"We have always been of the position that we need to upgrade our defense capabilities, our equipment. Nobody will argue that there is much more to be desired when it comes to the equipment that we have," she added.

"It has nothing to do with the standoff in Bajo de Masinloc; it has nothing to do with West Philippine Sea. But this is something that we really have to do at the very least," she stressed.

Bajo de Masinloc is the country's other name for the Panatag Shoal, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal.

The tension over the Panatag Shoal started in April 10, and up to now, Manila and Beijing have not yet resolved the issue. The two countries are both claiming sovereignty over the area, believed to be rich in mineral and oil deposits.

Aquino earlier said the government is planning to buy two new squadrons for the Philippine Air Force and another Hamilton class cutter from the United States is expected to be delivered in the country before the end of the year.

Valte assured that assistance will be extended to the Filipino fishermen who are being affected by the fishing ban in the waters surrounding the Panatag Shoal.

As the tension continues, the Philippines and China unilaterally declared fishing ban on the area.

Valte said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is assisting the affected fishermen to fish in other areas.

Meanwhile, as to the sector affected by the stringent measures that China has been imposing on Philippine agricultural products such as bananas, Valte said the government has been looking for other markets.

"To our banana growers, one assistance that we're doing is to look for other markets for them while the phytosanitary and regulatory issues are now being threshed out by the DA (Department of Agriculture) team that will go to China, if I'm not mistaken, next week," she said.

Amid the standoff, China implemented stringent measures on Philippine bananas.

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SunStar.Com.Ph | May 19, 2012 | Article Link      

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