New choppers boost military’s air defense

The Armed Forces of the Philippines showcased three brand-new AW-109 helicopters worth P1.35 billion during the first day of a two-day celebration of its 78th founding anniversary in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

New helicopters for the Navy. Navy personnel stand
in formation beside three newly acquired Augusta
Westland 109 Power Helicopters, some of the
military’s new acquisitions, during their commissioning
and blessing at the Armed Forces headquarters in Makati
on Dec. 19.
Two more helicopters of the same type are expected to be delivered in 2014 with a contract price of P850 million,

AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista said that the Augusta Westland helicopters will be equipped for territorial defense missions and humanitarian assistance for future external defense functions.

The new choppers feature maritime air surveillance/downlink capability and could support marines and special operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, maritime interdiction and aeromedical evacuation, among others.

The AFP highlighted Thursday’s ceremony with the blessing of the three helicopters and other military hardware.

On the second day of celebration on Friday, President Benigno Aquino III personally inspected the choppers, a new Sikorsky Air Ambulance and other equipment on display.

Also showcased were Army acquisitions such as the Unmanned Aerial System, GARMIN Global Positioning System (GPS), and a 100mm Mortar.

Army spokesman Capt. Anthony Bacus said the UAS provides real time imagery intelligence and video feed from a particular area with a range of 3 kilometers to 7km and can extend up to 50 km.

“It complements the existing Human Intelligence (HUMINT)/Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capability of the Army which is used in surveillance operations and also in humanitarian assistance and disaster response. The UAS had been instrumental in the successful conduct of operations against the rogue MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City last September that led to the surrender and arrest of several MNLF fighters under Nur Misuari,” Bacus said.

As this developed, the AFP denied the claim of the New York-based Human Rights Watch that the Philippine Army will be excluded from Washington’s $40 million military assistance because of human rights violations.

“That is hearsay,” AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Demi Zagala said.

“Do they have any document to prove their claim? I am not sure what their intent is for saying that, and more importantly, what is their basis for making such an assumption,” Zagala said.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin watching
his wife pour champagne on one of the
helicopters. The helicopters will be used for
surface surveillance, search and rescue and
maritime security operations. AFP
HRW Asia Advocacy director John Sifton on Wednesday said the $40-million assistance promised by US Secretary of State John Kerry “is restricted to maritime security assistance and counter-terrorism training for the police in Mindanao.”

“We note that none of it will go to the Philippine Army, a traditional recipient of US foreign military financing, and there’s a reason for that. The US Congress, the Pentagon, and the State Department each agree that the Philippines Army is implicated in abuses, past and even present, and continues to enjoy impunity since the government has not established any significant record of prosecuting human rights violations. This new military aid package reflects that consensus,” Sifton said.

Sifton claimed that the Obama administration agreed that the Philippine Army should not get any major assistance.

But Zagala dismissed the HRW claim as untrue.

“The assistance is for the AFP. There was no caveat that the Philippine Army should be excluded,” he said.

“Besides, ever since we adopted the Oplan Bayanihan in 2010, in terms of human rights violations, our record has been at an all-time low. And it is not the policy of the AFP to condone or encourage human rights violations,” Zagala said.

Sifton, without citing documents to back up his statements, also claimed that there is an existing hold on a $3 million annual financial military assistance to the Philippines “as a result of the government’s failure to address these abuses.” With Florante S. Solmerin



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