Philippines: Adding submarines to Navy fleet is not ‘priority’

Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe
Philippines: Adding submarines to Navy fleet is not ‘priority’ Philippine Navy staff wave from the landing ship BRP Dagupan City during a send-off ceremony ahead of a training exercise, Oct. 17, 2018. The government has delayed plans to add submarines to its fleet.
Bullit Marquez/AP

The Philippines has decided to delay acquiring submarines under its military modernization program, the defense department announced Wednesday, saying the purchase is not a “priority” at a time when government funds are limited.

Department of Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong cited a lack of “government resources” as the reason why the submarine project is being pushed to the backburner. Earlier this month, the department said its military modernization program had been delayed yet again. 

The submarines were supposed to be acquired during Horizon 3, the latest stage of the modernization program that was expected to begin in 2023 and run to 2028. The first stage, Horizon 1, ran from 2013 to 2018, and Horizon 2 ran from 2018 to 2022.

“Although submarines are on our wish list for Horizon 3, the department is prioritizing the implementation of contracts signed during the previous administration, cognizant of the limitations in the resources available to the government,” Andolong said in a statement.

Top defense and military officials from the previous administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who left office in June, had planned to acquire at least two submarines. The Navy had estimated the project to cost about 70 billion pesos (U.S. $1.2 billion), including logistics support and development of ports to house the submarines.

“The procurement of submarines is actually not yet a priority for the department as of now,” Andolong told reporters after issuing his statement.

“Submarines are expensive. If we buy them, the cost will be more than the 20 billion to 25 billion pesos budget ($338.7 million to $423.4 million) we get every year,” he said as he discussed funding for the military’s modernization program.

Asked if the Navy, which has no submarines in its fleet, was prepared to add them, Andolong said, “Let’s just say the Navy is currently reviewing and evaluating the program in order to determine what is really needed to implement the program.”

France, he said, is among the countries expressing interest in supplying submarines to the Southeast Asian nation, which along with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan are engaged in a territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea. Indonesia, which is not a claimant, has a separate dispute with Beijing.

Andolong denied local media reports that France was offering the submarines in exchange for permission to explore the country’s waters.

 ”Many suppliers have expressed interest in selling us submarines, including France. However, there is no truth to the report that there is an offer to the department for submarines in exchange for permission to explore Philippine waters,” he said.

“We do have a 2016 arrangement with France on defense cooperation, and in the course of the department’s engagements with representatives from France, there was never a mention or discussion of such a proposal.”

Any agreement would comply with the constitution and uphold the country’s interests, Andolong said. 

Last month, Michèle Boccoz, France’s ambassador to the Philippines, discussed a possible submarine deal. 

“There is an ongoing discussion. There is a tender and there’s been a proposal. This is a normal discussion,” Boccoz said on the sidelines of a defense forum in Manila.

 She did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment on Wednesday.


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