Lipa City, Batangas – Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin vowed to give the military a boost within the next two years, citing an “extreme necessity” in upgrading its defense capability, amid a territorial dispute with China.

Speaking at the Air Force’s 65th anniversary rites in Fernando Air Base here Friday, Gazmin said his office is “speedily” working on the approval of contracts for 138 modernization projects for the military.

The projects, which the defense department aims to approve by July 31, will be implemented over the next five years and includes big-ticket items for Navy and Air Force.

“These include among others the acquisition of surface attack lead-in fighter trainers, attack helicopters, light transport aircraft, and medium transport aircraft, all of which are expected to be delivered within two years from now,” Gazmin said.

The Philippines is presently fighting for ownership of the Scarborough Shoal and several territories in the Spratly Island Group, all of which China claims as its territories.

Armed only with turbo-prop planes, helicopters, and a handful of aging warships, Manila has been resorting to filing diplomatic protests against Beijing.

The latest protest was prompted by the China’s formation of a city that encompasses almost all of the South China Sea, including a Spratly island where a Philippine town has dozens of residents and a municipal hall.

In Scarborough Shoal, at least three armed Chinese law enforcement ships were spotted Monday along with six fishing vessels and 16 dinghies, said a security official who requested anonymity.

“Our extreme necessity to modernize is meant to address the primordial constitutional duty of our Armed Forces, to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory,” Gazmin said.

“We are now very determined in our intention to modernize,” the defense chief said.

“The availability of these aircraft will erase, once and for all, the ironic and naughty commentary that our present air force is ‘all air, devoid of force,'” he added.

At the anniversary ceremony, more than 40 airplanes and helicopters conducted a flyby and some stunts “to set things right for the organization,” Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz said.

It has been 15 years since the force last staged such activities for its birthday, due budget cuts which eventually led to a lack of equipment. Fighter jets were retired in 2005.

The lack of fighter planes had also prompted the Air Force to send some of its units to land operations such as fighting communist rebels.

“To set things right, we need to show that we are not expanding to become a ground force,” Dela Cruz said. (John Roson)

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