Philippine military seeks almost triple defense spending amid China dispute

Philippine military seeks almost triple defense spending amid China dispute

REUTERS

Philippine generals in late July 2015 asked Congress to almost triple annual defense spending over the next five years to upgrade equipment amid an escalating marine dispute with giant neighbor China.

The Philippines is in the middle of a 998 billion pesos ($21.95 billion) 15-year plan to modernize its Armed Forces in the face of rising tensions in the South China Sea.

“The gaps between our needed defense articles and the levels of our current inventory are too wide to ignore,” Brig. Gen. Guillermo Molina told a national defense panel hearing at the House of Representatives.

“As a way ahead, the Philippine Congress may want to consider pegging the defense annual budget to at least 2 percent of annual GDP.”

This year, Congress set aside 115.8 billion pesos, or less than 1 percent of the GDP, or gross national product, for defense. Next year, the government has requested 129.1 billion pesos. The military would need 308 billion pesos to get its desired 2 percent of GDP.

“Comparing the military spending of the Philippines with our neighboring countries, the Philippines has one of the lowest spending levels,” Molina said, adding security was complicated by China’s occupation of Scarborough Shoal.

It was not immediately clear where the money would come from. Congressman Francisco Acedillo, a former Air Force pilot, said the House of Representatives would have to study the military’s proposal.

“The figure is mind-boggling, but if our country needs that, we’ll have to find ways to support it,” he told Reuters.

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and rejects the rival claims of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China seized control of the rocky Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a three-month standoff with Philippine Coast Guard ships, preventing Filipino fishermen from getting near their traditional fishing grounds.

Molina said Philippine airspace was vulnerable to intrusions. The Philippines has no fighters or surveillance aircraft to detect and monitor activities within its vast maritime borders.

Molina said the Navy has two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters, three former British Royal Navy corvettes, and Vietnam War- and World War II-vintage patrol boats. It has a fleet of helicopters and several trainer jets and transport planes.

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