MANILA — The US State Department has approved the possible sale of $2.43 billion or P118 billion worth of military equipment and fighter jets to the Philippines, a United States agency said.
The possible sale could include 10 F-16C Block 70/72 aircraft, 24 air-to-air missiles, modular mission computers, missile launchers, tactical radio system, and ammunition, among others, said the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
The State Department "has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of the Philippines of F-16 Block 70/72 Aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $2.43 billion," the DSCA said in a statement released on Thursday.
"This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner that continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in South East Asia," the agency said.
"The proposed sale will improve the Philippines’ capability to meet current and future threats by enabling the Philippines to deploy fighter aircraft with precision munitions in support of counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines, increasing effectiveness and minimizing collateral damage... The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region," added the DSCA.
American aerospace, defense, and technology firm Lockheed Martin Corporation will be the principal contractor for the potential sale, the DSCA said.
The description and dollar value for the proposed sale is "based on initial requirements," it said.
"Actual dollar value will be lower depending on final requirements, budget authority, and signed sales agreement(s), if and when concluded," said the agency.
The US is the Philippines' only defense ally.
Last February, President Rodrigo Duterte said Washington must "pay" a toll if it wants to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement with Manila.
Duterte unilaterally canceled the VFA last year, after an ally was denied a US visa. He had then cited "political and other developments in the region.
The withdrawal period has been thrice extended, however, to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms.
The VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines. Experts say without it, other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), cannot be implemented.
The MDT states that the two countries will come to each other's defense in case their metropolitan areas or territories are attacked.
The Philippines since March has repeatedly protested the "swarming" of some 200 Chinese ships believed to be manned by militia in the West Philippine Sea.
Beijing refuses to recognize a 2016 ruling that junked its claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller Philippine waters.
Duterte has shelved the ruling as he pursued investments and loans from China. In May, he said the ruling was a scrap of "paper" that could be thrown into the wastebasket. Days after, he said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from the waterway.
– With a report from Reuters