MANILA, Philippines, June 27 (UPI) -- The Philippine air force intends to purchase additional aircraft and upgraded radar systems by 2016.
The new equipment is projected to cost more than $320 million, or over a third of $916 million promised by the administration of President Benigno Aquino to enhance the military's capability to protect the country's maritime resources and territorial integrity, the Manila Bulletin reported Monday.
Philippine Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena told journalists, "It will improve our capability very much because it will give us a greater domain awareness in what is happening in our territorial waters and in our territorial airspace."
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. added that the Aquino administration was committed to reforming the Filipino Armed Forces, remarking, "We all want the best for our country and want to help our people weather whatever storms that come their way. Today we have a commander in chief who is committed to providing you the support you need to allow you to perform your duties to the best of your abilities."
The new capabilities are directed towards what Manila views as an increasing threat to its offshore maritime resources, China's growing claims in the South China Sea.
China's expansive sovereignty claims in the South China Sea include the Spratly ("Nansha" in Chinese) and Paracel ("Xisha" according to Beijing ) islets, putting China directly into potential conflict with sovereignty claims and security of five Southeast Asian states which claim the contested archipelagos as part of their offshore waters and accordingly part of the Exclusive Economic Zones, which extend 200 miles offshore, according to the terms of the United Nations Law of the Sea conference, more commonly known by the acronym UNCLOS. At stake of billions of offshore revenue in the form not only of potential hydrocarbons but fishing rights as well.
China's emerging disputes include not only the Philippines, but Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, not to mention China's irredentist claims on Taiwan. All of the aforementioned nations except Taiwan are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN.
Maritime force has outrun diplomacy in this case, as when competing claims overlap amongst UNCLOS signatories, UNLOS defers resolution of disputes to the competing states to negotiate to delineate their final and actual maritime boundary, with the general principle that any point within an overlapping area defaults to the nearest state.
A diplomatic solution to the issue at this stage is apparently viewed by the Philippines as less important than a show of maritime determination.