President Aquino vowed to defend Philippine sovereignty. Photo: Reuters

Manila boosts military to resist ‘bullies’ as ties with Beijing sour

Aquino pledges to protect Philippine sovereignty in a speech marking navy's 115th anniversary


Philippine President Benigno Aquino has announced a US$1.8-billion military upgrade to help defend his country's maritime territory against "bullies", amid a worsening dispute with China.

In thinly veiled comments referring to China, Aquino yesterday vowed in a speech marking the navy's 115th anniversary that the armed forces would be given the resources necessary to protect Philippine sovereignty.

It came as Manila protested the presence of Chinese ships near Ayungin Shoal, which Manila describes as "an integral part of its national territory, in the disputed Spratly Islands.

"We have a clear message to the world: the Philippines is for Filipinos, and we have the capability to resist bullies entering our backyard," Aquino told naval chiefs. "We will also improve our communications, intelligence and surveillance systems."

We have a clear message to the world: the Philippines is for Filipinos, and we have the capability to resist bullies entering our backyard
Benigno Aquino

Aquino detailed a 75-billion-peso (HK$14 billion) military modernisation programme that gives priority to upgrading the navy, one of the weakest in Southeast Asia.

He said by 2017 Manila would acquire two new frigates, two helicopters capable of anti-submarine warfare, three fast vessels for coastal patrols and eight amphibious assault vehicles.

Aquino said the government had spent 28 billion pesos upgrading its military over the past three years, including two refurbished Hamilton-class cutters bought from the US Coast Guard.

The first, renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar, entered service as the navy's new flagship in 2011. The second is due to be delivered in August. Manila also announced this year that it would acquire for its coastguard 10 new patrol boats from Japan.

The increasingly bitter territorial dispute with China is over competing claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit above vast amounts of oil and gas. It is home to rich fishing grounds.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said Manila had filed a protest with Beijing over the "illegal" presence of a Chinese warship and two other vessels off Ayungin Shoal.

The shoal, 200 kilometres from the southwestern Philippine province of Palawan, is guarded by a Filipino marine unit based in a rusty warship that ran aground on a coral outcrop several years ago.

Hernandez said the protest was filed on May 10 and China had not responded.

China claims sovereign rights to most of the South China Sea, including waters approaching the coast of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Manila boosts navy against 'bullies'