MANILA - A lawmaker questioned the plan of the Department of National Defense (DND) to acquire two brand-new anti-submarine helicopters worth P5.4 billion.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the House of Representatives, the chamber that primarily allocates public funds, should invoke its oversight power and review the wisdom of the plan.
“What do we need those anti-submarine choppers for? Do communist guerillas and the remaining Muslim separatists possess submarines? Or are we preparing for a possible confrontation with China?” he asked.
“I do not know whose brilliant idea this is,” Albano said.
He said the country should not engage in an arms race with China as a complementary measure to its diplomatic approach in resolving the territorial dispute with Beijing over shoals and islets in the West Philippine Sea.
“Clearly, we cannot afford to do that. We cannot match the resources that China is prepared to spend on warplanes, battle ships and other weaponry,” Albano said.
He said there was “an extreme lack of priorities and prudence” in the way the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had made its modernization plan.
Albano suggested the government should focus on the diplomatic approach and pursuing its complaint before the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
He said the P5.4 billion for anti-submarine helicopters could better be used to procure basic equipment for soldiers.
“We cannot even give our infantrymen the kind of boots that they need for patrols,” he added.
Albano, a member of the Commission on Appointments, earlier expressed misgivings over another DND plan – the purchase of 12 fighter jets from South Korea worth $464 million (about P19 billion).
He said the DND should be buying more C-130 transport planes and helicopters, instead of fighters.
He said transport planes could be used whenever there are calamities.
Albano noted that in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, the government had to wait for more C-130s and helicopters from neighboring countries for the delivery of relief supplies to typhoon victims.
“These multi-billion peso purchases should not be wasted or lost because of wrong priorities,” he said.
Albano suspects there are DND officials and military officers who are pushing for the anti-submarine helicopter and fighter plane procurement for their own purposes.
The Philippines has signed contracts worth $527 million to buy 12 fighter jets from South Korea and four combat utility helicopters from Canada to boost the capability of its air force.
“With the eventual delivery and acquisition of these new air assets, our Air Force can already forget the lingering naughty joke that it is all air without force,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said during the signing ceremony.
“The completion of these acquisition projects is symbolic of the friendship we share with Canada and South Korea. It is heartening to know that in the near future we will see these air assets fly across the Philippines,” he added.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista signed a contract with Korean Aerospace Industries for 12 FA-50 fighters worth P18.9 billion ($420.4 million) and another contract with Canadian Commercial Corp. for four Bell 412 combat utility helicopters worth P4.8 billion ($106.8 million). Deliveries will start next year.
The fighter jet contract is the biggest deal so far signed under the AFP’s long-delayed modernization program.
Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo said the acquisitions would pave way for the restoration of the Air Force’s territorial defense capabilities.
“For the Philippine Air Force, it means slowly but surely bringing back its capability for territorial defense,” Manalo said.
Manalo signed the sales agreement for the 12 lead-in fighter trainer jets with Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) president Young Ho Oh and Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (KAI) president Ha Sung Yong.
The document containing details of the jets acquisition project was signed by AFP chief Bautista, Young and Ha.
South Korean Ambassador Lee Hyuk served as witness at the signing.
KAI’s Ha described the FA-50 as a “brilliant choice.”
“It will not only serve as the most powerful advanced jet trainer and lead-in fighter. The FA-50, the Fighting Eagle, will also serve as a multi-purpose fighter,” he said.
“I am sure that there will be further opportunities that we can cooperate based on our strategic partnership.”
The delivery of the jets will start 18 months after the opening of the letter of credit, a document that assures KAI that the Philippines will honor its obligations. All jets will be delivered by 2017.
Meanwhile, the contract for the eight combat utility helicopters from Canada was signed by Bautista and Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder.
The Bell 412EP helicopters will be acquired through the state-owned Canadian Commercial Corp.
“The government of Canada is pleased and honored that the Philippine Department of National Defense has selected our country as a trusted partner in meeting the needs of the Philippine Armed Forces Modernization program,” Reeder said.
“We look forward to continued close collaboration on this project and other opportunities in the future,” he added.
Bell 412EP helicopters are capable of assault support, close air support and are adaptable for any mission. Each helicopter can accommodate 14 passengers and one crew.
The delivery of the helicopters will start in August 2015 and will be completed in 2017.
Three of the eight helicopters will be configured as VIP helicopters while the rest will replace the aging Bell helicopters acquired during the Ramos administration.
Albano, however, said the purchase of hardware and equipment under the AFP Modernization Plan must be subjected to a thorough congressional inquiry, particularly on the questionable purchase of two ASW helicopters in relation to the basic needs and priorities of the military.
The lawmaker said it was “ridiculous” to buy two high-tech ASW helicopters when the country itself does not even have effective and adequate radar and sonar systems that could warn defense forces of any incursions into Philippine airspace and sea lanes.
“How will these anti-submarine attack helicopters be dispatched if they don’t have the capability at all to know what’s illegally lurking below our sea lanes?” Albano asked.
Albano urged President Aquino to thoroughly review the decision of the DND to ensure that taxpayers’ money would really be spent for essential hardware and equipment that would kick-off the modernization of the AFP.
He warned the DND that it would be highly improper to spend billions of pesos for the acquisition of military equipment with no definite purpose except for what was claimed by Manalo, which is “the purchase of two ASW helicopters is one of the projects included in the list of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.”
“Being a part of the wish list of the AFP Modernization Program is a stupid and ridiculous reason to waste taxpayers’ money for two anti-submarine attack helicopters for the Philippine Navy whose officers and men had long dreamed of having a modern fleet of Navy combat ships like cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, amphibious assault ships and support and auxiliary ships, patrol boats, hydrographic and oceanographic survey ships, among others,” Albano said.
He said the P5.4-billion funding for the purchase of the two ASW helicopters would be better used to put up new power plants in the country or upgrade old power plants to immediately address the recurring power crisis in Mindanao.
The militant group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) urged President Aquino to recall the procurement of fighter jets from South Korea and helicopters from Canada, and instead re-channel the budget for rehabilitation of Yolanda stricken areas. – With Paolo Romero, Alexis Romero, Michelle Zoleta, AP