THE Philippines is looking to invest in submarine force that may be used to protect its territory in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday said the government is studying the possibility of acquiring submarines, noting that the Philippines may lose its entire west coast if China will insist on its so-called nine-dash line claim over contested waters.
“We are supposed to have a 36,000-kilometer coastline. We are supposed to have an EEZ (exclusive economic zone) of 200 stretching from those baselines. And suddenly, we are gonna lose about half if we agree to this position,” Aquino noted.
“Now, it does impact on our policies in that we have had to invest in our maritime domain awareness. We have had to, shall we say, accelerate, the modernization of even of our Armed Forces for our own self-defense needs. We might have to undergo various aspects of our own military capabilities that have never been part of our needs,” he said.
“We are a natural transit point into the Pacific and we are now studying whether or not we do need a submarine force,” the President added.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea despite conflicting claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei Darussalam.
“The bottom line is: This situation does call upon us to devote a lot more resources than previously. Also, it has necessitated us to have this as one of the priority issues that have to be tackled as far as foreign policy is concerned because it does significantly impact our own developmental efforts,” Aquino said.
“It does impact currently the lives of our fisherfolk who have been fishing in these waters for eons. It does impact the economies to which these fisherfolk of ours are engaged in. Hence, there is that need to finally resolve this matter or, at least, accelerate the process of resolving this matter to the benefit of all parties concerned,” he added.
But at the same time, the President reiterated the need for a rules-based and peaceful approach to resolve the maritime dispute, saying armed conflict does not foster stability.
“I think all claimant countries in the South China Sea recognize, and other countries that are adjacent to the sea that are not claimant countries, all realized that war is a futile exercise. Nobody stands to gain and, in fact, the whole world stands to lose if it does amount to war. The Philippines, for instance, renounces war as an instrument of foreign policy, that is embedded in our Constitution,” he pointed out.
“We have no illusions of ever trying to march or trying to engage anybody in an arms race or in a military build-up. We would rather devote our resources to the classical economic argument that the butter side rather than the gun side of choosing where to put our resources in,” according to the President.
“I think, the main point that we want to raise is that, this is a matter that concerns every country, even those who are very far from this particular body of water where trade is so essential to fostering prosperity for all, which is the main reason for being of every government, which is to improve its people’s lot in life. The uncertainty breeds instability, instability does not promote prosperity,” he said.
Manila earlier filed an arbitration case against Beijing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, questioning the latter’s nine-dash line claim.
Beijing has reclaimed more than 2,900 acres from the South China Sea in less than two years in an intensive island-building campaign, and has deployed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island there, according to Taipei and Washington.
Buying submarines, however, will not solve the disputes as the Philippines could not match China’s military might, according to Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City.
“Aquino should be realistic. He needs force to counter force,” Lim said, adding the Philippines should reopen dialogue with China.
“A submarine will be a very expensive investment, and it may not address the problem in the most reasonable way,” he said.
The Department of National Defense also on Wednesday said the Philippines will be acquiring two anti-submarine helicopters to be used by the Philippine Navy against external aggressions.
The $114-million contract was awarded to Finmeccanica Helicopters (formerly AgustaWestland), Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo said.
Manalo added that the first AW159 Wildcat will be delivered after a year.
He did not disclose the timeframe for the delivery of the second helicopter.
The helicopter carries active dipping sonar (ADS), sonobuoys and torpedoes and can be armed with anti-ship missiles, rockets and guns.
“This will definitely enhance the capability of the Philippine Navy. For the first time, we will have an anti-submarine helicopter, we are also buying a frigate, for the first time we will have a brand-new frigate,” Manalo said.