Manila: The Philippines’ lacklustre response to the tragedy that befell one of the country’s top officials underscores the need for the government to upgrade its emergency response equipment, a senior senator said.
Senator Edgardo Angara said that while it is debatable that Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and two others who had perished in the crash of a private aircraft could have been saved, the incident nevertheless highlights the need for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to modernise its equipment to cope with such emergencies.
Robredo, along with pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese Kshitiz Chand, perished in the crash that occurred off the coast of Masbate island on Sunday afternoon. The interior secretary’s aide, Police Senior Supt June Paolo Abrazado, survived the accident involving a twin-prop Piper Seneca.
The crash took place late afternoon on August 19.
According to Angara, the team that first responded to the crash site had been unable to continue search operations in the evening because they did not have adequate equipment for night rescue.
A Navy helicopter engaged in the search and retrieval operations had to make a precautionary landing due to poor lighting conditions that made operating in the night hazardous.
“We have always had great need of equipment like air transport, radar surveillance, and sonars,” Angara said.
The difficulty in searching for the wreckage of the aircraft under several dozens of metres underwater was compounded by the fact that its tracking transmitter was out of order.
“That is why we support the measure amending the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Modernisation Act under Committee Report No. 138. This will modernise military infrastructure and equipment, and boost the capabilities of the Armed Forces especially in times of emergency and crisis.”
The ill-fated aircraft crashed just less than a kilometre from the shore, but the waters are so deep in the crash site that they needed specialised equipment to conduct dives for the retrieval operations.
The remains of Robredo and the two other crash victims were only recovered several days after the mishap and using deep diving equipment of volunteer foreign divers.
Angara said modern equipment would have made the difference in such a situation. Once passed, the measure will ensure that larger appropriations for the AFP Modernization Trust Fund. Under the measure, as much as 50 billion pesos (Dh4.3 billion) over the first five years can be appropriated for the modernisation programme.
He said force modernisation does not always necessarily mean purchase of weapons. “This means that more funds can be used to purchase more quality equipment especially for emergency response,” Angara said.
“According to the President’s recent state of the nation address, 28 billion pesos (Dh2.4 billion) has been allotted for the programme in less than two years. If the amendments to the AFP Modernisation Act will be enacted, as much as 75 billion pesos will be allocated for modernisation over the next five years the President said,” he explained.
“The AFP Modernisation Act is not just about stockpiling weapons and modernising armed efforts, but also helping protect lives,” Angara concluded.