Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Why DND put on hold P6.5B Israeli missiles

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Tuesday said there was nothing irregular in its decision to shelve the planned acquisition of the P6.5-billion missile system from Israel for the Philippine Army in view of the country’s internal security threats.

Arsenio Andolong, director of the DND’s public affairs service, said the Shore-Based Missile System (SBMS) under the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was just in the planning stage.

“The SBMS project is merely a proposal at this time, and as such, there is no ‘realignment’ but rather a reprioritization of the said project in favor of the urgent need of our PA (Philippine Army) troops for individual force protection equipment,” Andolong said.


He said the “reprioritization” was a collective decision by senior defense leaders, which was submitted to President Aquino after going through the required processes in the Defense System of Management.

The Inquirer reported on Tuesday that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. and Army chief Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri had scuttled the contract for the Israeli weapons system, which was primarily for territorial defense. The deal with Israel was negotiated in December 2014.

The new shopping list of military equipment included 832 marksmen rifles worth P149.76 million, two lots of chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear protective gear worth P103.402 million and 32 long-range sniper weapons systems worth P17.28 million.

The report also said the last-minute change was made allegedly to earn a windfall from commissions from private manufacturers unlike the contract with Israel, which is government-to-government and therefore with no commissions.

“We reiterate that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin will never be a party to nor condone graft and corruption in the AFP Modernization Program as insinuated in the report,” Andolong said.

Undue haste

In the House of Representatives, three lawmakers criticized defense and military officials for their misplaced priorities and undue haste in canceling the purchase of antiaircraft missiles from Israel in favor of purchasing battlefield gear such as helmets, body armor and night vision goggles.

Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop said it was unusual for the military to prioritize internal threats when its main responsibility was to protect the country from foreign incursions, like China’s buildup in disputed waters.

“It’s also true that there are no broker commissions in government-to-government, such as the missile contract unlike the purchase of battlefield gear. But I’m not sure if this was a factor in the sudden change of plans,” Acop said in a phone interview.

Magdalo Rep. Ashley Acedillo questioned the swift U-turn in the military’s purchase of high-priced military hardware.

Acedillo said purchases under the AFP Modernization Program involved billions of pesos and it took years of planning sessions before any item would be placed on the shopping list.

He said the DND and AFP should explain why they dropped the missile purchase because their justification—increased threats from terrorists—was too flimsy to justify a drastic change in acquisition.

Something ‘fishy’

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said Congress should look into the decision-making process of Gazmin, Catapang and Iriberri who took only a few months to abandon the SBMS that was negotiated for two years between Israel and the Philippines.

“There’s definitely something fishy going on here, and Congress should investigate. Just recently, the Aquino administration declared with much fanfare that it considered external threats to the country more important than internal security concerns, such as the communist and Moro insurgencies. Hence, it made the acquisition of external defense capabilities a priority of the AFP Modernization Program,” Tinio said.

Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, Army spokesman, said the SBMS project was not scrapped.

“It was only moved to the second horizon (of the AFP Modernization Program). It was not scrapped,” explained Detoyato.

Soldiers’ best interest

Iriberi said the decision was for the best interest of the 85,000-strong command and its soldiers.
The decision to set aside the missile defense system, he said, involved national security concerns like the Army’s capability gaps.

“We cannot discuss matters pertaining to capability gaps of the Philippine Army as these are classified information involving national security,” Iriberri said in a text message to defense reporters.
“We want to assure our people that whatever actions the PA had undertaken on the matter are all for the best interest of your Army and for the welfare of our soldiers,” he added.

It was Iriberri who supposedly recommended the change which was conveyed by Catapang to Gazmin and approved in principle by Aquino.

Supported by generals

Top military officials, who asked not to be identified, said Iriberri’s move was supported by the generals, citing the pressing need for force protection equipment on the ground.

“Our troops are falling victims to land mine attacks, the use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) is now prevalent. We need to protect our soldiers from these dastardly acts by enemies of the state,” said an Army battalion commander.

“The use of IEDs is now prevalent in the field. All armed threat groups—the NPA (New People’s Army), ASG (Abu Sayyaf group) and even the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) have access to this type of explosives,” he added.

Another officer said that even if the Army pushed through with the missile defense system, it was capable at this time to operate it. In addition, the missile system would not ease the tension with China in the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea.

No war with China

“We will not really go to war with China,” another official said.

He said China would never stop its aggressive reclamation in the South China Sea should the Philippines and neighboring countries acquire similar missile weapons system.

Iriberri brushed aside allegations of “kickbacks” from the new projects.

“On the allegation of ‘commission,’ those are pure lies,” Iriberri said. “As I said, whatever actions the PA had undertaken on the matter are all for the best interest of your Army and for the welfare of our soldiers.”

The report was perceived by other senior military officers as a demolition job against Iriberri who, according to sources, is being groomed to replace Catapang who will leave the service when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56 on July 10.

Iriberri is Gazmin’s former senior military aide.

China stakes out Philippines Recto Bank

KAGITINGAN REEF  China is expanding construction on Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Kagitingan Reef, as seen in this June 28 satellite image. A 3,000-meter airstrip is nearly complete. China continues to pave and mark the airstrip and an apron and taxiway have been added adjacent to the runway. Personnel are now visible walking around the island. A sensor array has also been constructed and additional support facilities are being built. CSIS ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE/DIGITAL GLOBE
KAGITINGAN REEF China is expanding construction on Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Kagitingan Reef, as seen in this June 28 satellite image. A 3,000-meter airstrip is nearly complete. China continues to pave and mark the airstrip and an apron and taxiway have been added adjacent to the runway. Personnel are now visible walking around the island. A sensor array has also been constructed and additional support facilities are being built. CSIS ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE/DIGITAL GLOBE

“Our message to the world is clear: What is ours is ours; setting foot on Recto Bank is no different from setting foot on Recto Avenue,” President Aquino said in his second State of the Nation Address in July 2011.

But the Philippine Navy recently found a large steel marker bearing Chinese inscriptions and hundreds of yellow buoys in waters near Recto (Reed) Bank, an area of the West Philippine Sea where Manila has long explored for oil and gas, naval sources said.

A Reuters dispatch on Tuesday from Puerto Princesa City said one sailor reported he was on a fishing boat being used by the Navy that discovered the rubber buoys and the floating steel marker at the end of May.

The buoys stretched “as far as the eye could see,” the sailor said.

The newest discovery of Chinese markers was confirmed by two senior Philippine naval officials. One said the buoys were still there when the Navy checked the site mid-June, although the steel marker was gone. No attempt was made to remove the buoys, he said.

“Our boys tried to cut and remove the buoys but a large Chinese patrol ship emerged on the horizon and they hurriedly left,” the sailor said, adding it was unclear what the Chinese inscriptions on the steel marker meant.

The three sources declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Philippine military officials said it was the first time in recent years that such markers had been found near Recto Bank.

The sailor also said there was no hard evidence Chinese ships had placed the marker and buoys near Recto Bank, which is also claimed by Beijing.

But efforts to remove the buoys were thwarted by the sudden appearance of a Chinese naval patrol vessel, prompting the Philippine boat to flee, the sailor said in an interview in Puerto Princesa, the Philippine military’s jump-off point to the disputed South China Sea.

The Reuters report on the Chinese incursion at Recto Bank coincided with the opening hearing on Tuesday in the arbitration court in The Hague of the Philippine petition against China on Manila’s maritime disputes with Beijing.

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay will open the presentation, according to Malacañang’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario will “speak on the reason for the filing of the Philippines’ case,” said Valte, who is with the delegation. Lawyers from the Washington-based law firm Foly Hoag, led by Paul Reichler, will present the arguments.


China has refused to participate in the hearing.

The Spratly islands, where China is flexing its naval muscles as it builds seven man-made islands on top of coral reefs, lie to the southwest of Recto Bank, farther away from the Philippines.

Asked to comment on the buoys, the Chinese foreign ministry said, “We do not understand what you are talking about,” adding that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly islands and its nearby waters.

“China’s position on this is clear and consistent,” it said.

The Chinese defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, the Philippine Navy spokesman in Manila, said he had not seen any report on the discovery.
China claims most of the South China Sea, of which the West Philippine Sea is a part. An estimated $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes the disputed waterway every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

Fishing ban

Philippine military strategists have long worried that China wants to occupy Recto Bank.

One Air Force general said he suspected the buoys were put there so Chinese fishermen could tether their boats, then if the Philippine Navy tried to evict the fishermen, Chinese Coast Guard ships would appear to protect them.

In 2012, China seized Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which lies 230 km west of the Philippines, after a three-month standoff with the Philippine Navy.

China has since prevented Philippine fishermen from getting close to the rocky outcrop’s rich fishing grounds, the Philippine government and fishermen say.

The Philippine Navy has previously found markers with Chinese inscriptions around shoals in other parts of the West Philippine Sea.

In 2011, a steel marker the size of a 4-meter container was discovered in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal in the Spratlys. A Navy boat towed it away while concrete markers found in the same area last July were blown up, naval officials said.

The Philippines said in March it was suspending exploration at Recto Bank while it pursued international arbitration. Manila is seeking a ruling to confirm its right to exploit waters in its EEZ as allowed under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

‘Absurd claims’

In a statement issued during a protest at the Chinese Embassy on Tuesday, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said it believed the Philippines had a strong case.

“The arbitral tribunal should give the case due course. If the Philippines wins, then we would have gained an important legal and moral victory against China’s absurd claims. It would aid our assertion of our sovereignty and gain us the support of the international community,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes.

Lauro Baja Jr., former permanent representative of the Philippines to the United Nations and one of the senior diplomats who crafted the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, warned the Philippines should not fall into Beijing’s trap.

“China is being clever and smart. They frame their responses to the Philippines’ case through the issue of territorial sovereignty,” he said.

–Nikko Dizon and Niña P. Calleja, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Philippines ramps up military spending in face of China threat

MANILA, July 7 (Reuters) - The Philippines plans to ramp up military spending over the next 13 years, earmarking more than $20 billion to modernise its forces in the face of Beijing's maritime ambitions in the disputed South China Sea, a top air force official told Reuters.

Major-General Raul del Rosario, military chief of plans, said the blueprint includes installing radars and sensors, and buying equipment such as submarines, frigates, fighters, surveillance planes and missile systems.

"By the time, we complete this plan, we will have complete coverage of the South China Sea," said del Rosario, a former fighter pilot, showing the military's detailed plan that was approved on Friday.

"We will have 24/7 awareness of what is happening in the disputed area and we'll be able to respond quicker to any contingency in our own exclusive economic zone."

He said the ambitious plan was initiated in 2013, but top brass had only approved overall spending of 998 billion pesos ($22.11 billion) last week.

Del Rosario said 83 billion pesos had been earmarked for the first five years, 444 billion pesos for the second five years and 471 billion pesos for the last five years.

In 1995, Congress had earmarked 364 billion pesos for a similar 15-year plan. Less than one-tenth of that sum was actually spent by 2010.

The modernisation programme is designed to strengthen Manila's claims in the South China Sea, believed to be rich in energy deposits.

China has become increasingly assertive in the South China Sea, building artificial islands in areas over which the Philippines and other countries have rival claims. The moves have sparked alarm regionally and in Washington.


President Benigno Aquino has promised the military about 34 billion pesos this year, which will fund the purchase of two frigates and a twin-engine long range maritime aircraft.

So far, the government has given the military 9.4 billion pesos in 2014. This has been used to purchase eight combat utility helicopters and as a downpayment for 12 FA50 fighter-trainers from South Korea. Two of the aircraft are expected in 2016.

Del Rosario said that between 2018 and 2023 the Philippines would buy electric-diesel submarines and advanced missile systems.

Three aerial surveillance radars with a range of 350 nautical miles will also be installed in Ilocos Norte, Lubang island and Mount Salacot in Palawan, all facing the South China Sea to detect movements in the disputed area.

These will complement the navy's two surface sensors capable of detecting ship activities 200 miles away. Three surveillance planes will also be on constant patrol in the area.

"We do not aim to defeat China," del Rosario said. "But our goal is make any state think twice before attacking. We will make sure anybody attacking us would end up with a bloodied nose." 

By Manuel Mogato
Source: Reuters - Tue, 7 Jul 2015 10:04 GMT
Author: Reuters

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