Philippine officials are set to leave the country Saturday in search of military hardware to boost the country’s capability in battling insurgents and guarding its territories, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

Assessment teams will go to different countries to evaluate military equipment, including “much-needed” assets like fighter jets for the Air Force and and multi-role vessels for the Navy, Gazmin told reporters.

“Lahat ng countries na nag-offer sa atin ng mga equipment na for sale (pupuntahan), this weekend mag-uumpisa kami sa Italy. Barko, eroplano, at saka tangke,” he said.

After Italy, defense officials will visit Spain, while there are also plans to look at equipment in the US, Korea, France, and the United Kingdom, according to the defense chief.

“Titingnan natin ‘yung equipments, i-eevaluate natin. Kung ano ‘yung pinakamagaling at kung ano ‘yung pinaka-affordable sa atin, ‘yun ang uunahin natin,” he said, adding that most aquisitions will be made through government-to-government deals.

Gazmin said the government aims to ensure the approval and signing of contracts for all the 138 projects under the AFP modernization and capability upgrade program not later than July 31 this year.

“Worst-case scenario is November, pero if at least by July we attain at least 50 percent, good batting average na ‘yun,” he said.

All the projects, worth about P65 billion to P70 billion, are expected to be completed by 2020, according to Hernando Manalo, Defense Undersecretary for finance, munitions, installations, and materiel.

Among the funds to be used for the acquisitions are the yearly AFP modernization budget and proceeds from the Malampaya Gas Project, Manalo said. (John Roson)

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