Manila: The Philippine Navy has purchased a high-end Hamilton class patrol boat from the United States to deter Chinese incursions into maritime zones over which Manila claims sovereignty in the disputed Spratly Archipelago.
"Philippine navy officers are now in the United States preparing to sail our first Hamilton class navy [vessel] to the Philippines," new military chief of staff Eduardo Oban said during an official handing-over ceremony that saw him taking charge in Camp Aguinaldo in suburban Quezon City on Monday.
"We shall sustain efforts to modernise our armed forces," Oban said, adding that the new acquisition would make Raja Humabon, the old Philippine Navy flagship, obsolete.
Critics say the Philippine Navy's Cannon-class destroyer escort is the oldest warship in Southeast Asia and possibly in the world. As for the Hamilton patrol frigate, a helicopter flight deck and a retractable hangar add punch to its strike capabilities. The refurbished 380-foot vessel also has a dual engine equipped with gas turbines.
Without giving details such as the cost of the new boat, Oban said the military would strive to make its transactions open and transparent to ward off criticism about corruption in its top echelons.
The military will launch a computerised procurement system, he said, adding this would make "transactions leave indelible trails" and make officers accountable.
He also called for amendments to the country's Procurement Reform Act.
"I pledge the enforcement and prosecution of those who will not act on this pledge," he said, adding he would "promote a culture [in the military] not to tolerate corrupt practices" and at the same time "encourage a simple and healthy lifestyle".
Strategic Planning Office secretary Ramon Carandang said President Benigno Aquino believed that Oban will make a genuine difference despite having only nine months in office.
Strengthening its border patrol capability came after a Philippine oil exploration boat was allegedly harassed by Chinese patrol vessels in the disputed South China Sea last week.
President Aquino responded by asking the Philippine Coast Guard to escort the oil exploration vessel in the Reed Bank.
China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim areas adjacent to their territories.
The Philippines, an ally of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, is a non-Nato ally. The Philippines and the US forged a mutual defence treaty in 1951.