MANILA (UPDATE) - The United States on Thursday turned over a C-130 plane to the Philippines in support of the Southeast Asian country's efforts to modernize its military.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, US Ambassador to the Philippines John Law, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, and other officials attended the turnover ceremony.
The aircraft is aimed at boosting the country’s heavy airlift capabilities to move troops and cargo during territorial defense and internal security operations.
"As our country is prone to natural calamities due to its location and topography, it is imperative for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to boost its capability to perform humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations all the time. For these reasons, I am quite sure that this C130-H aircraft will be fully and frequently utilized soonest," Lorenzana said in his speech at the ceremony.
The C-130 Hercules transport aircraft was received through a grant from the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, according to the Philippines' defense department.
It is the first of two C-130 Hercules aircraft — which cost P2.5 billion — that will be acquired by the Philippines. Of the P2.5 billion, Manila will only pay P1.6 billion and the rest will be covered by Washington.
"Indeed, this gesture of generosity and goodwill further cements the time-tested alliance and deep friendship of our two countries," Lorenzana said.
In a separate statement, the US Embassy in Manila said the aircraft could carry a maximum of 19,000 kilograms, and has a flying range of some 1,900 kilometers.
Law hopes that the C-130 aircraft would be helpful to the PAF in the next few years.
"The C-130 is a proven aircraft and demonstrated its reach and capability to deliver COVID-19 supplies across the country over the past year. We hope this additional aircraft will continue to be a steady workhorse for the Philippine Air Force," said Law.
The Philippines last week showed 23 newly acquired air assets, with Duterte saying they "will play an indispensable role in safeguarding our nation."
The turnover of the C-130 from the US comes after President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent rant against the Philippines’ long-time ally.
The President earlier demanded that Washington should pay if it wants to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, saying "America has a lot of offenses against us." The Philippines was an American colony.
Duterte also said the US should provide its long-time ally in Asia weapons and defensive systems as the Philippines' ill-equipped military will falter in the event of war against China, given unresolved maritime disputes between the two neighboring countries over the South China Sea.
Philippine defense and military officials, meanwhile, have affirmed their support for the VFA, which is central to Washington's Asia strategy, as China continues to flex its muscles in the continent.
Lorenzana said last week their "general feeling is for the VFA to continue" but that he told his US counterpart Lloyd Austin that "we don't want any miscalculations or accidents in the South China Sea because we are right smack there in the center of conflict."
Duterte unilaterally canceled the VFA last year, in an angry response to the cancellation of the US visa of his close ally, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa. The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however, to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms to be agreed on.
Defense officials from both countries are trying to salvage the VFA, which underpins the Mutual Defense Treaty and an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Duterte has threatened to scrap all of them.