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Iran Press TV

Philippines pledges to build stronger army amid territorial tensions

Iran Press TV

Mon Dec 21, 2015 10:36AM

The Philippines' President Benigno Aquino has pledged to build a stronger army to face maritime challenges amid growing territorial tensions in the region.

"We're planning to acquire new frigates, Strategic Sealift Vessels, long-range patrol and close air support aircraft and other equipment," Aquino said on Monday at the 80th founding anniversary of the armed forces.

The president did not refer to the South China Sea dispute specifically, but said that the US and Japan were helping Manila develop its military capacity as "some countries" in Asia have been increasing defense spending.

"I have personally witnessed how the military grew stronger and more effective in preserving peace and stability, the key in building confidence in the Philippines," said Aquino.

He had earlier vowed to spend some 83.90 billion pesos (1.77 billion dollars) in a five-year period until 2017 to strengthen the military.

The spending plan, however, was only ratified this year, meaning that the bulk of the budget will be spent in the coming months. Aquino leaves office next year and is ineligible to run for re-election under the constitution.

Manila has spent 56.79 billion pesos (1.2 billion dollars) since 2010 on buying a squadron of light fighters from South Korea and combat helicopters from Italy, Aquino said.

China, the Philippines and four other countries have been having disputes over the ownership and control of areas in the South China Sea for decades. China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the energy-rich sea, which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, and Malaysia beside the Philippines.

Washington has sided with China's rivals in the territorial dispute, with Beijing accusing the US of meddling in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the contested waters. The US, however, has accused Beijing of undergoing what it calls a land reclamation program in the South China Sea by building artificial islands in the disputed areas.

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