MANLA - The Philippines on Thursday received two brand new new surveillance aircraft from the United States as the country seeks to boost its maritime security capabilities.
The two Cessna C-208B Grand Caravans worth $33 million (P1.67 billion) is capable of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and could fly for five and a half hours on a single fuel load.
The planes are expected to aid the Philippine military's counter-terrorism efforts, internal security operations, law enforcement, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
Amid rainy weather in Manila, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim turned the planes over in a ceremony at the Villamor Airbase.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año graced the ceremony.
Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte could not make it to the turnover ceremony because of scheduled trips to Negros Oriental and Dumaguete City.
Meanwhile, newly-designated Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez and Philippine Air Force (PAF) Commanding General Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina also attended the event.
US WANTS TO HELP AFP IN MARAWI CRISIS
In his speech, Kim said the donation was a symbol of the strength and enduring nature of the long-standing Philippine-US alliance.
The envoy also said the US has delivered arms and ammunition, including bombs, rockets, pistols, and grenade launchers, and would be transferring more intelligence and surveillance equipment to the military in the coming months.
He said the US wants to "help Marawi residents get their city back and start their lives over in a safe and stable environment."
A crisis has gripped the city for more than two months now since firefights between state troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists erupted on May 23.
The US earlier provided technical assistance to the AFP to help in the offensives.
"We really want to help AFP as much as we can, as they go through the very difficult situation in Marawi, as they also continue to strive to develop the military in the long term," Kim said.
Lorenzana thanked the US, the country's longest standing ally, for its continuous support to the AFP, noting that the planes would serve as deterrents to communists, terrorists and extremists.
"[The planes are the] first of its kind, the most modern that we have. Wala naman tayo kasing state of the art," said Lorenzana of the aircraft.
The US has continued to provide aid even as it received Duterte's vitriol largely over its criticism of his war on drugs.
During his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, Duterte demanded that America return church bells that its soldiers had taken from Balangiga town in Samar as "war booty" during the Philippine-American war in 1901.
Asked to comment on the President's stance towards the US, Cayetano said Duterte values the Philippines' relationship with its long-standing ally.
Cayetano said points of disagreement should not define the relationship between the two sides, adding that the Philippines accepted the planes as its counter-terrorism efforts are aligned with that of the US.
He explained that the President's previous statements- that he does not want any foreign troops on Philippine soil- was merely an aspirational statement not directed towards US troops.
He added that the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allowed rotational presence of US troops in Philippine bases, are still operational, and that the President is not forming any new military alliances.