04 Januari 2011

Aquino Pledges Navy Upgrade to Guard Resources

BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS-36), a Jacinto class corvette with 712 tons full load (photo : NavyNewsStand)

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino promised new and faster boats for the under-equipped Navy to guard the country's maritime resources, including oil exploration areas in disputed territories in the South China Sea.

The 6-month-old government wants to raise funds to replace Vietnam War-era warships, aircraft and other combat support equipment by leasing military property to private investors.

"I am confident that as the Navy upgrades its capability and acquire modern equipment, the better it can protect our seas, especially petroleum exploration areas in Kalayaan Island Group, Malampaya, Palawan, Mapun and Sulu," Aquino said on Tuesday after swearing in a new navy commander in Manila.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Chevron operate the $4.5 billion Malampaya natural gas platform off northern Palawan, one of the country's largest long-term energy projects. Exxon Mobil has been exploring for oil-and-gas in Sulu Sea, south of Palawan.

Kalayaan is the local name for disputed islands in the South China Sea that are claimed wholly or partially by China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, and which are believed to hold rich deposits of oil and gas.

In the southern Philippines, security risks from communist guerrillas, Muslim separatists and Islamic militants have thwarted oil and gas exploration efforts.

Aquino said he was shocked to find the Navy still using some Vietnam War-era US-made transport and gunboats and second-hand British frigates. A contract for three small, fast coastal patrol boats would be awarded this week, he said.

Navy officials said the boats would help patrol the country's vast and porous maritime borders with Indonesia and Malaysia and counter poachers, pirates, smugglers and militants.

The government has allocated 5 billion pesos ($115 million) for the army's upgrade program in the 2011 budget, and hopes to raise another 5 billion pesos from leasing military property.

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