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Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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Philippines Posts Record Defense Budget for Second Straight Year

Philippine air power

(Photo : Korea Aerospace Industries) The Philippine Air Force’s first two FA-50PH fighter jets from South Korea landed in the Philippines in November 2015.

The Philippines, whose military is one of the weakest among the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will again boost its defense budget to a new record level in 2017 as tensions stoked by China continue to simmer.

The government of the erratic President Rodrigo Duterte, who continues to make enemies of the Philippines' traditional allies such as the United States, is asking the Philippine Congress for a 15 percent year-on-year increase in the country's defense budget to a new record $2.9 billion.

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Of this total, the Philippine Army will receive $1.2 billion; the Philippine Navy, $442 million and the Philippine Air Force, $405 million.

The military budget for 2017, however, doesn't include spending for military purchases, which the government sources from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.

For 2016, the Philippines set aside $552 million purchase frigates for the Philippine Navy, surveillance planes and radar to boost surveillance and detection of Chinese naval forces in the disputed South China Sea, which the Philippines' calls the West Philippine Sea.

As in 2016, Philippine defense spending for 2017 is expected to again focus on the acquisition of modern hardware for the long-neglected Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force. The Navy and Air Force are spearheading the Philippines defense of its sovereignty in the South China Sea against the People's Liberation Army Navy and the People's Liberation Army Air Force.

This emphasis on naval and airpower represents a major strategic shift for the Philippine armed forces traditionally dominated by the Army because of decades-long rebellions waged by Muslim separatists and communist rebels.

Despite the new focus on naval and airpower, most of the defense spending for 2017 is going to the Army, which justifies this, in part, because of its ongoing campaign to annihilate the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group that has kidnapped Filipino and foreign nationals and murdered some of these hostages.

Duterte has shown a strong bias towards the Army and rankled Air Force commanders with a statement last June before he became president the money being used to buy 12 FA-50PH fighter jets from South Korea is a being wasted. The jets, costing $406 million, are the most expensive acquisitions under the Armed Forces' modernization program.

The first two jets were delivered to the Philippines in November 2015. The 10 other jets are to arrive before the end of the year.

Duterte, who was the former mayor of Davao City plagued by both the Muslim and communist insurgencies, said the jets can't be used to fight the rebels.

In a fit of shortsighted pique, he said the two FA-50s delivered to the Air Force can't challenge China. The jets are only good for ceremonial fly-bys, said the uncomprehending Duterte.

"We only have what two FA-50s? Why did you buy that?" asked Duterte.

The jets were bought by the administration of former President Benigno Simeon Aquino from Korea Aerospace Industries.

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