MANILA - Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said the Philippines is now better equipped to monitor incursions and other activities in the West Philippine Sea with the acquisition and installation of surveillance radars.
In a pre-State of the Nation Address Forum, Lorenzana said his department has recently put up surveillance radars in different areas to detect incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea where it is laying claim to.
Chinese vessels have been sighted in Philippine waters, and were at times involved in harassment of Philippine vessels in the area for years.
Beijing continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea despite an international arbitration court's ruling in 2016 invalidating its basis. Aside from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have competing claims in the resources-rich waterway.
According to Lorenzana, the Philippines has taken actions to address recurrent incursions and harassment in the West Philippine Sea.
"Addressing recurrent incursions and harassments by military and civilian Chinese vessels, the Philippines has taken diplomatic actions against China for activities against our national sovereignty," he said.
"This is on top of our enhanced surveillance, enforcement, security, and development capabilities in the area."
Lorenzana did not say where the surveillance radars were installed, although the department's spokesperson disclosed that the last time an air defense surveillance radar was put up by government was sometime last year in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro.
Another radar was upgraded this year in Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte, while a third one set for installation on Mt. Salakot in Palawan province is expected to be delivered within this year, according to Arsenio Andolong, public affairs chief of the defense department.
Lorenzana said the newly-installed radars can help the government "properly watch and monitor our territorial waters."
"The AFP improved its identification, detection and interdiction efforts through our newly-installed air defense surveillance radars, the conduct of wider air and maritime patrols, and setting up additional detachments in strategic locations," he said.
Lorenzana said the administration is prioritizing the defense of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and claimed that its bilateral and multi-lateral engagements with countries, including the other claimants "significantly lowered the tension and has greatly helped in managing the issues in the West Philippine Sea."
Meanwhile, Lorenzana said conditions in military facilities in the West Philippine Sea, including Pag-asa Island, have also improved.
"We are upgrading existing facilities in the nine islands that comprise the municipality of Kalayaan, particularly the island of Pag-asa. For the first time since the 1970s, Pag-asa island has received major infrastructure upgrades, namely: a ship beaching ramp, and a sheltered port for our fishermen," he said.
It is now easier to proceed with other development projects there such as concreting the runway and its apron, and construction of other structures for the residents and government troops, he said.
As part of its modernization program, the Armed Forces of the Philippines recently acquired the BRP Jose Rizal, the first ever missile-capable warship of the Philippine Navy.
Lorenzana said combat support aircraft are also due for delivery this year to the Philippine Air Force.
The defense chief admitted that the military's modernization program was somehow affected by the coronavirus crisis, noting that some of its funds have been reallocated to the government's fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Lorenzana said P9.4 billion in modernization funds have been re-allocated, along with some P9.7 billion in capital outlay and P125 million in maintenance and other operating expenses.
Department of National Defense, Delfin Lorenzana, DND, West Philippine Sea, surveillance radar, SONA, State of the Nation Address