AS the fifth batch of FA-50 fighter jets arrived on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier criticized the acquisition of such aircraft, has reportedly softened his stand after seeing them in action against terrorists in Mindanao in southern Philippines.
With tail numbers 009 and 010, the two jet fighters piloted by two South Koreans touched down at 11:20 and 11:21 a.m. respectively, at the Haribon Hangar, Air Force City, Clark Air Base in Pampanga.
They were welcomed by Philippine Air Force (PAF) officials led by Maj. Gen. Enrique Reyes, commander of the 1st Air Division.
The delivery of the aircraft brought to 10 the number of FA-50s already in the PAF inventory.
Col. Antonio Francisco, Air Force spokesman, said military officials are expecting the completion of the delivery of the 12 fighter jets that it had ordered within the year, hopefully before the Air Force anniversary in July.
“Our FA-50 is very functional right now for us. Of course besides territorial defense, it is a multi-role fighter, leading surface attack and trainer aircraft so what we are really focusing on right now is the training of our pilots because if there will be a possibility that we are going to acquire some more fighters in the future, then at least we already generate more pilots and who have skills and time for our supersonic fighter planes,” Francisco added.
The Department of National Defense, during the Aquino administration, sealed the jet acquisition contract with Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd (KAI) for P18.9 billion.
The first and second batches of supersonic jets arrived in the Philippines on November 28, 2015 and on December 1, 2016, the 3rd batch on February 22, 2017 and the fourth batch on March 29.
The government originally planned to procure a squadron or 24 jets but reduced the number to 12 because of funding problem.
Early in his administration last year, Duterte said the acquisition of the fighter jets by the previous administration was a waste of money, noting that the fighter jets may have little or no use at all in addressing insurgency.
But a source at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the President apparently softened his stand after the FA-50s were extensively used in government offensives against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups in Mindanao.
In fact, according to the source who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, the President may be the one to receive the 11th and 12th aircraft.
After the completion of the delivery of the FA-50s, the military, he disclosed, is planning to acquire more fighter jets depending on the budget.
“We are still not sure but it is being expedited after we witnessed the functionality of FA-50. The President, I think is getting interested,” the AFP official said.