MANILA – President Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines' move to improve the capabilities of its military is not meant to stoke tensions in the regions.
In a speech during the opening ceremony of the Asian Defense, Security, and Crisis Management Exhibition and Conference (ADAS 2014), Aquino said the improvements in the country's military is not meant to stoke tensions in the region.
''Lest anyone accuse us of shifting to a more militaristic position, I must emphasize: our efforts to seek to modernize the capabilities of our security sector are to address the needs in human disaster response arenas and for our internal defense,'' Aquino said.
''None of these actions are meant to increase tensions in the region. Rather they are meant to address our domestic problems and issues."
The Philippines has seen its military undergoing upgrades in recent years, even as it faces challenges over its claims to parts of the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Asian giant China claims the disputed sea in almost its entirety, even waters close to the coast of other countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines and Vietnam, the most vocal of the sea claimants that also include Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan, have protested China's unilateral actions in the South China Sea.
In his speech, Aquino listed down the gains in the military's modernization program under his administration. These include the purchase of two Hamilton-class cutters, a combat utility helicopter, three AW109 naval helicopters, four refurbished UH1 helicopters, and the BRP Tagbanua – the first locally built landing craft utility ship.
Aquino also touted the purchase of 50,629 units of M4 rifles, and the arrival 2 of 12 FA-50 fighter jets next year.
''Apart from this, we are expecting 17 more refurbished UH1 helicopters, eight more combat utility helicopters, two long range patrol aircraft, six close air support aircraft, two anti-submarine helicopters, two frigates, and three full missile-capable multi-purpose attack crafts,'' he said.
Some analysts believe that the efforts by the Philippines and other claimant countries to upgrade their respective defense capabilities are meant to counter China's growing might.
The Philippines is regarded as having one of the region's most poorly-equipped armed forces.
Despite its moves to modernize, the Philippine military is still no match to that of China, which earlier said it would increase the defense budget by 12.2 percent this year to $131.57 billion.
Internal conflicts, calamities
Aquino said it is about time the military upgrade its capabilities. He said this is needed in order to reduce incidents of soldiers dying in the battlefield.
He added that incidents such as the Zamboanga siege and the onslaught of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) demonstrate the need for a military with superior capabilities.
Aquino said in the past four years, his government has spent about P40 billion in upgrading the military, compared to the estimated P26 billion that the administration of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, shelled out in almost 10 years.
"For the longest time, the state of our military's equipment has been neglected. It reached a point where lawless elements possess superior equipment,'' he said.
''This is precisely why we have done everything in our power to give the AFP the support they need to perform their duties to the fullest of their capabilities and to make sure that the risks they take in the battlefield are reduced to a bare minimum."