MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines hopes to complete this month negotiations for the acquisition of three Israeli-made aerial radars worth P2.68 billion that will be used to monitor disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.
Defense Undersecretary Eduardo Batac told The STAR that department officials have completed the pre-negotiations for the project, which seeks to boost the country’s capability to detect aerial intrusions.
“We have finished the pre-negotiations. That was actually a marathon negotiation for two weeks,” Batac said.
“Hopefully within May, we can finish (formal negotiations) because we are really putting priority to this,” he added.
The three radars would be acquired from Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. -Elta through government-to-government transaction.
“This is very important. This should precede the acquisition of all our air defense aircraft. We have to have the eyes, the ability to detect intrusions into our airspace before we can even scramble our air assets,” Batac said.
“We cannot let our fighters roam around our skies because it would be too costly. We scramble them on the basis of a detection report which is done by the radars,” he added.
Batac, however, said that they could only start the talks once the special allotment release order (SARO) for the project is released.
“We cannot enter into formal negotiations until we have the SARO because the moment we enter into formal negotiations, there are already commitments both on the part of the supplier and us. There are some things which are to be prepared by us when the equipment arrives,” he said.
Such requirements, Batac said, include roads leading to the site of the radar station and basing support facilities.
President Aquino and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin have to approve the project’s terms of reference, he added.
The pre-negotiation for the project was finished last March, about two weeks after a Philippine delegation led by Gazmin visited Israel.
Defense officials from the Philippines and Israel have signed an implementing agreement that provides the guidelines for the formal negotiations.
Batac said the radars could also be used for civil aviation purposes, noting that the country derives income from aircraft flying within its airspace.
“We have to have a basis other than their (aircraft) reporting to track their entry and exit from our flight information region,” he said.
Last February, Israel offered to provide excess defense articles to the Philippines, widely viewed as one of the weakest in the region in terms of military capability.
The matter was discussed during a bilateral meeting of Gazmin and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Tel Aviv.
Israel also offered assistance in the development of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence capabilities.
Meanwhile, the military vowed to continue boosting the morale of soldiers guarding the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal following the successful air drop of food supplies in the area last Saturday.
Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said that the Marines stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, the rusty ship that ran aground in the shoal and serves as a makeshift military detachment in the area, were given the sensitive task of defending Philippine sovereignty.
“We won’t neglect them. They have an important role to do and that is protect our national interest,” Zagala said in a phone interview.
“They can expect more morale-boosting support. (We will deliver) not just supplies but letters and presents from civilians. Those little things are very important to them,” he added.
China has deployed about five Chinese vessels in Ayungin Shoal, making it difficult for the Philippines to deliver supplies through civilian ships.