Philippines to get largest US military aid package since 2000

The Philippines will get its biggest US aid package in 15 years to help the country beef up its ill-equipped military, as tensions rise over territories in the South China Sea.

"We got the large allocation from the US government this year to enhance defence and security of our country," said Mr Jose Cuisia, the Philippine Ambassador to the United States.

He told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila that the Philippines will get more than US$120 million (S$162 million) in military aid from the US this year, its largest amount since 2000. Usually, Washington extends just a little over half as much each year.

The Philippines will receive US$79 million in annual military aid, up from about US$50 million last year, he said.

Mr Cuisia said the Philippines would get an additional US$42 million from the new US South-east Asia Maritime Initiative, a maritime capacity-building programme announced by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter, who is visiting Manila next week.

Philippine Navy ship BRP Ramon Alcaraz arriving at the Alava Pier, Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Olongapo City, north of Manila, in 2013. The Philippines has spent $1.2 billion since 2012 to purchase, among others, two US Coast Guard cutters, one of which is the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, and 12 FA-50 light fighter jets. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The two amounts represent the largest military aid package since 2000, when the US military returned to its former colony after the American bases closed in 1992.

Since 2002, the US has provided the Philippines with nearly US$500 million in military assistance, as well as various types of military equipment.

In November last year, US President Barack Obama announced on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila that the US would provide its allies in South-east Asia US$259 million in "maritime security assistance" in two years.

Mr Obama did not mention China, but he made the announcement shortly after boarding a former US Coast Guard cutter now used as the Philippine Navy's flagship that patrols waters in the South China Sea and had figured in a confrontation with Chinese warships in 2012.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea.

Tensions in these waters - through which one-third of the world's oil passes - have mounted in recent months since China transformed contested reefs into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.

Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

The Philippines has ramped up military spending to build a more credible navy and air force. It has spent 41.2 billion pesos (S$1.2 billion) since 2012 to purchase, among others, two US Coast Guard cutters and 12 FA-50 light fighter jets.

The government recently signed a US$114 million contract to purchase two anti-submarine helicopters and announced intentions to invest in its first submarine fleet.

It is also leasing from Japan five TC-90 long-range patrol aircraft.

The Philippines is still looking to procure two new frigates, as well as more surveillance planes and radars.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline Philippines to get largest US military aid package since 2000. Subscribe