Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Congressman Win Gatchalian has welcomed the government’s move to station new fighter jets and two frigates at the former US naval facility in Subic Bay early next year amid the raging territorial dispute with China.
“Positioning war planes and frigates in Subic Bay is a good move on the part of the Philippine military but it must be accompanied by increased acquisitions to modernize our fleet,” said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Valenzuela City representative said that aside from giving added boost to investments on military materiel, the government must also step up its security cooperation with other countries.
This is the first time that the Philippine military will station forces at the former key US naval base, which was turned into an economic zone after it was shut down in 1992 following the termination of a bases agreement with the United States.
“The facility is on the west coast of Luzon, just across the disputed Kalayaan group of islands. Security experts are right in saying that using Subic Bay would allow us to be more effective in responding against aggressive Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea,” Gatchalian pointed out.
Subic Bay is only 145 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal, which China grabbed from the Philippines three years ago following a standoff with the Philippine Navy that lasted for three months.
The shoal might be converted by China into an artificial island, which could make it more difficult for the Philippines to defend its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone off Luzon, according to Patrick Cronin, a regional expert at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
Further to the southwest of the shoal are the contested Spratly islands, where China is constructing seven man-made islands, some with military facilities.
Gatchalian said the government should improve military spending as the Philippines’ armed forces is among the weakest in Southeast Asia.
“The government is set to spend $20 billion over the next 13 years to modernize the military but we have to make sure that this translates to reality. However, considering that it will take us many, many years to even catch up with China’s military spending, it is crucial for us to forge strategic partnerships with other nations, especially our ASEAN neighbors as they are also affected by China’s nine-dash line claim,” Gatchalian said.
The Philippines has strengthened cooperation with the US, Japan, and Vietnam. The country ranks 40th out of 126 countries in the Power Index of GlobalFirePower.com, which measures the military strength of each nation considering factors such as manpower, land systems, air power, naval power, resources, and finances. It does not take into account nuclear capability.
China, meanwhile, is ranked third after the United States (1st) and Russia (2nd) and flanked by India (4th) and the United Kingdom (5th).
“The Chinese military-industrial complex continues to promote its technological gains while increasing its military strength through show-of-force initiatives,” the web site said of the China’s armed force. (Monica Cantilero)