MANILA - The Philippines will award aircraft contracts to South Korean and Canadian companies worth USD 525.62 million (P23.7 billion), a senior defense official said on Friday, boosting its capability as tension simmers in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has embarked on a 5-year, P75-billion modernization program to boost its capability to defend its maritime borders against the creeping expansion of China in the South China Sea.
Fernando Manalo, undersecretary of defense for finance, munitions, installations and materiel, said the Philippines would acquire 12 brand-new FA-50 fighter-trainers and eight Bell 412 helicopters under a government-to-government deal.
"This is significant because we need to give our armed forces the minimum capability to perform its mission and responsibility," Manalo told reporters after completing negotiations with the two companies.
Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd. got the contract for the fighter-trainers worth 18.9 billion pesos while Canadian Commercial Corporation, which is licensed to market Bell helicopters, promised to deliver its first craft next year.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Friday warned that China was determined to change the status quo in the disputed waters, taking control of the Scarborough Shoal and forcing Manila to remove a transport ship that ran aground in the Second Thomas Shoal.
Last week, China prevented two civilian ships from delivering supplies to troops stationed in the shipwreck in the Second Thomas Shoal.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea's 3.5 million sq. km. (1.35 sq miles) of waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade each year.
Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims to the sea.
The Philippines' ill-equipped armed forces are no match for those of China, despite receiving two cutters and coastal radar stations from the United States. The military lost its fighter capability when it mothballed all its F-5A/Bs in the early 2000s.
Manalo said the Philippines was also spending 26 billion pesos within the year to acquire two frigates, two strategic sealift and three anti-submarine helicopters.