Philippine Air Force to spend $150M on upgrade

By Manny Mogato, Reuters

Posted at Jul 05 2010 07:25 PM | Updated as of Jul 06 2010 03:26 AM

  • Air Force getting combat helicopters, C130, trainer jets
  •  Aquino says they are investments for peace and growth
  •  Army may lease portions of bases to raise funds

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines will spend about 7 billion pesos ($150 million) on aircraft and surveillance systems to guard the sprawling archipelago and help fight Muslim separatists and Maoist rebels, a senior general said on Monday.

Lieutenant-General Oscar Rabena said the airforce would get 15 combat utility and night-capable helicopters, 10 refurbished UH-1H helicopters, a long-range maritime patrol plane, a refurbished C-130 transport, basic trainer jets and long-range radar systems.

"We have the plans in place for transition from internal security to territorial defence," Rabena told reporters at  Villamor Air Base, where a ceremony was held for the 63rd anniversary of the Philippine Air Force.

He said eight combat utility helicopters from Polish company PZL Swidnik, a unit of Anglo-Italian helicopter company Agusta Westland, would be delivered next year.

For more than 40 years, the Philippines' 130,000-member army has been fighting Muslim separatists seeking a homeland in the south of the mainly Catholic state and Maoist-led rebels waging a protracted war to overthrow a democratically-elected government.

At the ceremony, President Benigno Aquino III, the military's commander-in-chief, reiterated his commitment to provide the troops, weapons and equipment needed to end insurgencies and protect the country's territorial integrity.

"I will not make false promises to you or tell you things simply for the sake of making positive headlines," Aquino said, adding a secure and stable country was needed to attract investment that could create jobs.

"That's why they're called investments," Aquino later told reporters of the new equipment, adding the defence department was studying schemes to raise funds outside the annual budget.

"There are creative schemes that will not make the government lose its assets but will be in a position, like a lease, that we can enter into and then fund what we need."

Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told Reuters he had asked the military to make an inventory of available assets, including land that could be leased on a long-term to property developers.

"We have many camps within the capital region that can be leased for a minimum of 50 years. These are prime property that can generate billions of pesos and finance our modernisation programme."